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Wine and Food Wednesday
Pigs and Pinot

By Stephen Eliot

It was the title of one of the best-ever episodes of Bravo‘s Top Chef, it is the name of Chef Charlie Palmer’s annual celebration of Pork and Pinot Noir at Sonoma’s Hotel Healdsburg, and it is one of my favorite food and wine combinations of them all. If, in fact, there are any marriages made in heaven, my first vote is for the pig and Pinot match. There is something about the inherent sweetness of well-cooked pork that plays to the juicy, ripe-cherry themes of good Pinot Noir, and, in turn, Pinot’s slight tilt to acid helps the wine cut through pork’s fatty richness. For all of that richness, however, pork is not a meat that likes to be around a great deal of tannin, and few varietals other than Pinot seem to afford so much depth and compelling vinous range while keeping astringency to such a comfortable minimum.

I have lavished praise on Pinot before and expect that I will as long as new bottles make their ways to our table, but I am little transfixed by the grape these days as we wrap up our tastings for the February issue of Connoisseurs’ Guide which features, (you guessed it,) new Pinot Noir. What that means, too, is that we have a bounty of bottles that are far too good to be dumped down the drain after tasting, and, while you might think that we would tire of a steady diet of Pinot, I would simply say, think again.

Now, I do not mean to imply that we are eating pork each and every night over the last couple of weeks, and I can testify to the fact that Pinot is tasty with veal, beef, lamb and the occasional plate of salmon, but, yes, pork has been front and center of late in a good many guises. Last week, we roasted a crackling, skin-on picnic, the lower section of a shoulder of pork, and, both the initial meal and leftover reworkings ranging from savory pork sandwiches to a meaty mix of black-eyed peas and pork to a saucy, African ground nut stew have been happy mates to bottlings from DuMol, Merry Edwards, Hartford Court and Russian Hill.

On a late evening after an especially long day, quickly sautéed boneless chops dressed with a pan sauce of shallots, butter, white wine, mustard and cream took us through one bottle of Williams Selyem Pinot and into another. It has been said in some quarters that Cabernet Sauvignon appeals most to the intellect while Pinot plays to the sensualist in us all, and, if such nostrums do wander a little too far into the realm of the wine geek, I confess to understanding what is meant by those claim it.

And, while on the topic, those who are similarly smitten by the grape should check their calendars and make plans is at all possible to attend Chef Palmer’s sixth annual Pig and Pork extravaganza in Healdsburg on March 18 and 19 this year. Nancy Oakes, Marc Forgione and the Voltaggio brothers, Michael and Bryan will head up a list of participating chefs, and winemakers Merry Edwards and Tom Rochioli are among those tagged to host winemakers’ dinners. All proceeds from the two-day event go to Share Our Strength and local Healdsburg educational foundations, so the cause is every bit as good as the food and wines that the event celebrates

Here is a link for more information.

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