Wines to Pair with Pickles
Wines to Pair with Pickles
The other day a foodie buddy presented a friendly wine pairing challenge: which wines would I recommend to pair with homemade pickles?
This is fairly tricky, in ways that might be instructive. For one thing, vinegar can make wines seem thin and acidic on the palate. Pickling spices are typically tricky too. Hot spice tends to make alcohol seem hotter, not only throwing off perceptions of a wine’s balance, but also potentially neutering those qualities that make a good wine seem refreshing. While sugar, an ingredient common in many pickling spice mixtures, tends to make drier or less sweet wines seem sour.
It should be noted that in more real-world situations involving pickles—in which pickled vegetables tend to be condiments, side dishes, or flavoring agents, rather than the entire meal—one can focus on the protein or entrée, so choosing an appropriate wine is less fraught.
The easiest solution is beer, but the challenge was for wine. So, I set to work exploring.
We arranged to taste though a selection of wines with a few samples of pickles to try. The pickles were: (1) Fermented Brussels prouts with curry leaf, garlic, and fenugreek (lovely, spicy and complex); (2) sauerkraut with dill (traditional and tasty); (3) turnips pickled with vinegar and salt (tasty and very pickley); and (4) pickled cucumbers (the kind you might eat with your pastrami sandwich).
On the one hand, I tried to select wines that I really thought would work well and enjoy drinking anyway, and on the other I didn’t want to go for great wines and risk wasting them on food that might overwhelm and ruin my enjoyment of the wines.
Here are the wine options that simply and totally failed:
The variously styled sauvignon blancs all failed; the acidity of wine and pickles combined rather than contrasted—neither wine nor food was improved by the encounter. Two usually enjoyable Moscatos, one from Italy (Bartenura) and one from Israel (Golan Heights Winery), also utterly failed: the pickles took away their sweetness, making them seem fat and milky.
However, two wines worked rather well:
Bartenura Prosecco Brut ($16; mevushal): this simple, lively, slightly fruity yet dry, Italian sparkler paired very well with the assorted pickles, all the while cleansing the palate. Very enjoyable here.
Abarbanel, Lemminade, Riesling, Vin D’Alsace, Semi-Dry, Old-Vine, 2015 ($18; non-mevushal): This worked well with the Brussel sprouts and turnips, and worked brilliantly with the sauerkraut—choucroute (French sauerkraut) is very popular in Alsace, so I was fairly confident this would do the trick—and it did. Clean, bright, fresh and really lovely with citrus and refined floral aromatics followed on the palate with the fresh, racy tang of sour lemon, tart apple, great minerality, zippy acidity and a little spice, and all in fine balance creating an almost crystalline or delicate effect for a wine that otherwise has some nice heft and mouthfeel. Overall, this is vivacious and food-friendly, with reserved, Old World charm. Serve lightly chilled.