Thursday, September 6, 2012

MRE Menu 14: Ratatouille

Lest the name of this MRE suggest something more, this dish is ultimately an amorphous vegetarian mass presented in a sturdy foil pouch without the pronounced garlic and herbs one might expect from the restaurant version.  For a suitable red wine, let’s turn to a traditional area, Rioja, and a traditional varietal, graciano.  Normally this would be a minor addition to the dominant tempranillo-based blends from this region, but a few producers are vinifying it on its own so that you can appreciate its intrinsic contribution.  Naturally low-yielding, it has pleasing aromatics and refreshing acidity, which is just the thing to cut through the thick mass of vegetable mush in your MRE.

A white wine to pair with this dish mainly needs enough body to match the overcooked vegetables.  In this case the wine itself will essentially act as the seasoning, and the seasoning du jour is viognier.  As a mono-varietal wine, viognier has surfaced here and there in a few New World locations outside of its traditional home in the northern Rhone appellations of Condrieu and Château Grillet.  In Virginia, however, it has arisen as practically the signature white grape of the state, despite fewer acres planted than the universally ubiquitous chardonnay.  Viognier from this area has evolved from an élevage exclusively in stainless steel to some versions now seeing a bit of oak treatment.  This change in winemaking philosophy has led to increased structure and a corresponding broader range of potential pairings with food.

Complementary Pairing:  Graciano, Rioja, Spain
Try:  Dinastía Vivanco Colección Vivanco Parcelas de Graciano
[]  This humble blending grape gets the royal treatment, starting with a careful triage, destemming, and pressing, with transport only via gravity feed.  Each parcel is fermented separately in oak vats before transfer to a variety of new American and French oak barrels for a year and a half of aging without racking, and is then bottled unfined and unfiltered.  Enjoy the black fruits with a sprinkling of cocoa on top, ending with a lengthy finish.

Contrasting Pairing:  Viognier, Virginia, USA
Try:  Chester Gap Cellars Viognier Reserve, Rappahannock County
[]  In a short period of time, Bernd and Kristi Jung have taken their vines, planted in 2000 with an easterly exposition on steep slopes, and used them to reach the pinnacle of quality viognier production in Virginia.  They utilize just a gentle kiss of French oak to add creamy structure to the wine, while in no way subjugating the expression of this variety’s distinctive aromatics and white stone fruit flavors.

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