Thursday, August 11, 2022

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Perfect Pairings

Set the tone with the right wine



A decent Iowa ham with slightly sweet undertones pairs well with a delicate black berry wine like a pinot nior.

As I peer into my backyard, a shade of green catches my eye and it brightens my imagination. A small cluster of chives reach for the sun. It is Iowa’s bountiful growing season. It lasts for more than three-quarters of the year and includes everything from asparagus in the spring to squash in the fall. With all of these flavor profiles emerging from the Iowa soil, I think of the vast selection of wines I need to pick up to make the perfect pairings.

The most successful wine pairings can either complement or contradict the ingredients on the plate. For me, wine is a complement to the meal I sit down to share with friends and family. Opening a bottle of wine sets the tone for the table. It slows down the pace of the dining experience and spurs conversation. A perfectly paired wine can act as the sauce for the prepared dish.

An example of a wine complementing the dish is to pair Iowa ham with a pinot noir. The ham comes from the hind leg of the hog and is cured through smoke, salt or a combination of both. It can be enjoyed spiral cut, brown sugar glazed, on the bone, or thinly sliced on a sandwich. It is a lean protein with a slightly sweet undertone and a salty demeanor.


Unoaked chardonnay pairs well with a rich and creamy pasta dish like pasta carbonara. The crispness of the wine punches through the creamy egg sauce of the dish.

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Pinot noir is one of the most renowned grapes throughout the wine world. It is a thin-skinned, delicate black berry. This varietal is responsible for the most revered French Burgundies. Through the last century, it gained popularity through movies and marketing. It is the No. 1 wine produced in Oregon, the oldest post-prohibition winemaking state. The grape is notoriously hard to grow and thrives in sandy, loess soil. The end product has low tannins, drinks fruit forward and has a medium body, making it a perfect pairing for lean meats. It sips with a red berry characteristic that complements the saltiness of ham. As it ages, the flavors of the mushroom and forest floor develop in the wine. My favorites of the new world varieties are from the Willamette Valley. This area of Oregon is exploding with “made to look rustic” new vineyards and the tourists who love to follow the latest winemakers. Similar to the Beaune region in France, the Willamette Valley is snuggled along the Cascade Mountain range. This geographic advantage creates cool nights and wind-protected days.

On the cooler nights in Iowa, our family often opts for a pasta dish. My son’s favorite dish is pasta carbonara. It is fondly known as bacon and eggs spaghetti with black pepper. As a dutiful mom, I usually sneak in a veggie like fresh spring peas. A big advantage to this dish is that it is easy to make. So, with help from me, the kids can execute the preparation while I sip some wine in anticipation.

The perfect pairing for a creamy rich pasta dish such as pasta carbonara is an unoaked chardonnay. Chardonnay is a full-bodied white with citrus notes and a balanced acidity. In its natural state, it exemplifies hints of lemon, green apple and blanch almonds. I find my favorites from the eastern parts of France, most notable the Macon Villages in the southern part of Burgundy. The terrior consists of limestone and a warmer climate, creating a longer growing season. The berries are vinified in stainless steel or cement tanks, leaving the vintner with a crisp, fresh juice instead of one laden with tones of vanilla or buttered toast. This crispness allows the wine to punch through the creamy, rich egg sauce of the carbonara. The flavor of the wine is further heightened by the black pepper and saltiness from the bacon. These attributes combine to create the perfect summer night pairing.

So, while the warm air swirls outside and nature’s pastels bounce through our windows, think about grabbing some of these wine picks. They can make a meal into a dining experience you will not soon forget. ■


Chef Jennifer Strauss’ top picks that complement an Iowa dinner.


Top Picks

Domaine Serene, Evenstad Reserve 2011
Willamette Valley. $66.99

Argyle Pinot Noir 2014

Willamette Valley. $24.99

Albert Bichot Savigny Les Beaune 2013

Burgundy, France. $22.99

Mer Soleil Silver Chardonnay 2014

Central Coast California. $22.99

Four Vines Naked Chardonnay 2014

Santa Barbara. $11.99


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