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Wine and Food Wednesday
How A Pizza And A Fig Changed My Life

By Stephen Eliot

I came into wine-loving by way of food—back in my high school days if the truth be known. And, even today, it is the discovery of great wine and food combinations that stokes my passion.

Late Summer and Fall is the second and primary fig season, and, in local farmer’s markets and specialty produce purveyors, there is a wealth of various varieties to be had of late. From sweet and juicy Black Missions, to mild, meaty Black Turkeys and large, pink-fleshed Calmyrnas, the time is nigh to enjoy the year’s best. Which wine with figs? It all depends on just how you prepare them, and some remarkably delicious combinations await those who are willing to venture outside of the usual dessert realm.

While a plateful of fresh, well-ripened figs can make a satisfying meal-ending treat with a glass of Tawny Port, I confess a real weakness for more savory preparations, particularly those that employ figs in various pizza recipes. In fact, I have yet to meet the fig pizza that I do not like. Typically, figs will be paired up with any number of cheeses running from tangy chevres, to blue-veined varieties and buttery, soft-ripened versions such as Italy’s Crescenza. At times, salty meats such as prosciutto or bacon will find their ways into the mix, while caramelized onions are often used to impart a boost in sweetness. I am especially fond of those that come with a bit of arugula whose refreshingly bitter bite provides just the right counterpoint to the dishes’ richness.

The inspiration for today’s musings was just such a rendition served after a remarkable vertical tasting hosted by Pride Winery. Sixteen vintages of Pride’s Reserve Cabernets were opened for a small group of wine journalists to celebrate the winery’s twentieth anniversary. We will be reporting at length on the wines in the near future, but it was the post-tasting pizza that set me to thinking, and it gets the spotlight today. The fig, cheese and arugula pizza was merely one of many outstanding dishes offered up during lunch, but it was the perfect morsel at just the right time and immediately brought my tannin-numbed taste buds back to life.

Now, after several hours of tasting, discussion and spitting, it was clear that a glass for drinking was required, but a powerhouse red was not the thing. Normally, I would opt for a soft, fruity, low-tannin red, but, with none to be found on the table, I reached for a glass of Pride’s 2009 Vintner Select Chardonnay. I could not have been any happier. Maybe it was fatigue, maybe it was the gnawing hunger that comes from lengthy tasting, maybe it was the gorgeous setting and the good company, but that Chardonnay hit the mark in ways I was not expecting. Big, lavishly fruited Chardonnay is now on my short list of fig-pizza favorites.

Those familiar with Pride Chardonnays know them to be rich and generous wines that make no apologies for ripeness, but they are driven first and foremost by fruit. In the June issue of CGCW, we awarded the 2009 Pride Vintners Select two stars and 91 points with the following notes…

“We cannot argue that this extravagant wine is not a bit over the top, but along with its high ripeness and lavish oak it does offer lots of juicy, apple-like fruit. It is an immense mouthful with an oily feel and plenty of unbuffered heat at the finish, and, while it will be anathema to some, fans of truly powerhouse whites will revel in its unfettered richness.”

No, it is not a wine we would pour with more delicate dishes, but on this day it found brilliant affinity with the sweet and savory aspects of the perfect cheese/fig/arugula pizza, and it gave me a memorable, wine-and-food match that will be repeated again when flamboyant, fully-ripe Chardonnay is on the menu.

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