My #1 tip for how to learn more about wine: spin the bottle around and look at the back label. See the name of the importer? If you liked the wine, you'll probably like the importer.
Find more wines brought into the U.S. (or whatever country you're in) by the name on the back, and before you know it, you'll have in-depth knowledge of a particular style, region or country.
Some of my long-time favorites include Savio Soares, Louis Dressner, Terry Theise and Jenny & Francois, and since we moved to California, I've discovered Oliver McCrum and North Berkeley Wine Merchant. The latter's retail shop is just a short bike ride away: depending on our culinary plans, it's become a Saturday tradition to go to the Farmers Market on MLK, followed by North Berkeley Wine Merchant, then Tokyo Fish Market and Acme Bread before returning home with everything we need to make mind-blowing meals for the next week. I hadn't stopped in to see Mary Margaret McCamic, director of retail tastings and education at North Berkeley Wine, since December when I cooked a feast for my birthday dinner. But last Saturday I needed to, as I was embarking on a labor-intensive dinner mission that would require the perfect professionally chosen wine to match.
When I read the recipe for Wine-Braised Chicken in a Clay Pot in Ken Hom's Fragrant Harbor Taste: The New Chinese Cooking of Hong Kong and his note that it, "Would make a great picnic dish," I had it in my head that I wanted to enjoy the chicken in a sandwich. But not just any sandwich. I wanted that sandwich to be a steamed bun slider with a grilled beet and scallion ginger sauce, something I'd not attempted before.
Steamed bun slider with grilled beet, wine braised chicken and ginger scallion sauce
I donned an apron and set to it last Saturday. While the chicken was finished braising and cooling on the stove, and my sliced raw beets were marinating in a vinaigrette I concocted from macerated shiso, S&B mustard, mirin, peanut oil and rice vinegar, I pedaled over to Cedar Street to ask Mary Margaret's opinion of what I should pair with my sliders. I described my dish to her and she suggested the 1994 Règis Cruchet Vouvray Sec.
1994 Règis Cruchet Vouvray Sec
How does a 20-year-old bottle make it onto the shelves of a boutique wine shop with a reasonable price tag to boot? The best importers have close relationships with their producers -- so close that these craftsmen and women will occasionally open their cellars to them and release cases of vintages they've been holding back for their own consumption or until their ideal drinking window has been reached. If you've read Neal Rosenthal's Reflections of a Wine Merchant, you know what delicious fun is in store for young American importers who call upon such skilled patient winemakers with a cache of old bottles to open for such occasions.
I can count on two fingers how many times I've had an older Chenin Blanc so my memory of how the grape ages was a little fuzzy. But I trusted Mary Margaret's opinion that it was an ideal match for my slider's layered savory flavors. When I pulled the cork at dinnertime, poured a taste of the wine and took a deep sniff from my glass, I imagined biting into a juicy apricot as I inhaled the Chenin Blanc's deep bouquet framed with secondary notes of almond and honeycomb. Its acidity plus the slight bite from the ginger composed the perfect foil for the slider's chicken and beet filling. Eating dinner with our hands, trickles of the chicken's braising liquid running between our fingers, and pausing to wipe our hands and take a sip of a lovingly made, cellared, newly-discovered and recommended wine -- dining in on a Saturday night has achieved new heights.
Wine-Flavored Chicken in a Clay Pot
Fills 12-14 sliders
Adapted from Fragrant Harbor Taste: The New Chinese Cooking of Hong Kong by Ken Hom
3 tablespoons Chinese rose wine
1/2 cup rice wine
1/4 cup light soy sauce
1/3 cup dark soy sauce
3 tablespoons sugar
2 pieces cinnamon bark
2 tablespoons dried ginger
3 star anise
1 tablespoon Sichuan peppercorns
2 teaspoons salt
3 points whole chicken legs, skin off
Place the braising mixture into a large clay pot or casserole, put it on the stove, bring to a boil, then turn the heat down and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add the chicken and continue to simmer for one hour, rotating the legs a few times during cooking time. Turn the heat off and let the chicken rest in the liquid until it is thoroughly cooled. This will take 2-3 hours.
Remove the chicken from the pot, tear the meat off the bones and leave in the braising liquid until ready to serve.
I watched this YouTube video to make the steamed bun, but found 3 cups of flour to be too little. Try adding 3 cups of flour at first and adding another 1/2-2/3 cup of flour slowly until the dough becomes dry enough to effectively knead.
3 large beets, peeled and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 tablespoon mirin
3 tablespoons peanut oil
8 shiso leaves, cut into strips
2 tablespoons S&B mustard (or a hot mustard of your choice)
1.5 tablespoons rice vinegar
Marinate the beet slices for 3 hours or overnight. If you're marinating for a shorter amount of time, spoon the marinade over the beets every now and then to ensure even marination.
Heat your grill to 350-400˚F.
Place the beets on the grill and turn the burners down to medium low.
Grilling is best accomplished with a glass of rosé!
Grill the beets for a total of 6-8 minutes per side, flipping and brushing the beets with the marinade every 3-4 minutes. If you're using red beets, the marinade will turn an interesting shade of Pepto Bismol pink.
After you've been grilling the beets for 12-16 minutes, place the beets the coolest part of the grill and put the lid on. Let the beets cook in a covered grill at around 300˚F for another 8-10 minutes before removing to a plate.