How to Pair Malbec with Food

Last quarter, my life as a student at the Northwest Wine Academy led me to the Food and Wine Pairing Varietals II class in which we studied the craft of pairing red wines with food. In this class our instructor, Chef Lenny Rede, challenged us with an assignment he titled Iron Chef:  Malbec.

What made this so challenging? Each team of students was randomly assigned a course to pair with a Malbec. Which Malbec? That’s the thing – we wouldn’t know ahead of time. Pairing a dish to a wine we haven’t yet tasted?  What a great opportunity to see if the food and wine pairing principles we’ve learned along the way will work!

Flavors in Malbec and Why They Matter

Before tackling this assignment, we took into account Chef Lenny’s tips for pairing food with Malbec. First, consider the flavors typically found in Malbec. These may include blackberry, blueberry, cocoa, citrus, black pepper, and a general smokiness. You can match the wine with food by selecting similar or contrasting flavors.

Ingredients That Work with Malbec

Then, select a base ingredient that is likely to partner well with the varietal. Recommended base ingredients to pair with Malbec include beef, lamb, veal, pork, smoked salmon, tuna, chicken, duck or sausage. When preparing these ingredients to pair with Malbec, the best cooking techniques include grilling, roasting, smoking, or barbecuing.

Another method you can use to effectively pair the wine with food is by incorporating bridge ingredients into your dish. For example, herbs, sauces, and other ingredients that enhance the base ingredient can create a bridge to help the wine connect with the food. Bridge ingredients that help a dish pair with Malbec include blackberries, blueberries, dried fruit, mushrooms, sun dried tomato, balsamic vinegar, beets, bacon, aged cheeses, onions, and mustard.

Of course, let’s not forget the food and wine pairing principle that says, “If it grows together it goes together.” In other words, if you’re going to drink Malbec pair it with a dish you would find in an area where Malbec is widely produced. In this case, we looked to Argentina.

Specific Food Pairings for Malbec

My class partner, Dawn, and I randomly drew pasta as our course for the Iron Chef: Malbec challenge. Some roasted sweet potatoes that Lenny had served us in class inspired us to consider preparing sweet potato gnocchi topped with a Chimichurri sauce rather than pesto. Then Dawn tasted my gnocchi and very nicely suggested that we try something else, as it might take us a while to perfect our technique for making those light fluffy pillows. Not wanting to give up on the idea entirely, we resorted to using prepared gnocchi from Cucina Fresca. I found a great recipe for Chimichurri on allrecipes.com that I used as a base for a cream sauce.  I really like the idea of doing a riff on Chimichurri as the bridge to connecting the wine with the food. Fortunately, Chef Lenny liked it, too!

Looking for some more ideas for what to pair with Malbec? Other dishes presented in our Iron Chef:  Malbec showdown that proved these food and wine pairing principles effective included vegan chili, goulash, and a lovely cheese plate with Mitica Drunken Goat, Taleggio, and I’Ulivo Pecorino.

Spaghetti Squash Fritters served with Cilantro Chimichurri are a great vegetarian side dish for pairing with a fruit forward Malbec that has seen little or no oak.

Fairbanks Fantastic Food and Feasts offers a wonderful recipe for roasted chicken made to pair with Malbec that wowed everyone at my birthday dinner.

Wine Skinny offers a lentil soup recipe that incorporates bacon, one of our favorite bridge ingredients.

Recipes for a  number of other dishes that pair with Malbec are available via Muy Malbec.

What’s your favorite dish with Malbec?

Note:  new links added 1/19/12

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