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Great Dinners with Texas Wine

By Pamela Slover Percival

When pairing food with wine, branch out from the old "red with beef, white with chicken and fish" rules, get creative and experiment with different flavor combinations.

That's the advice Pheasant Ridge Winery owner Bill Gipson Jr. gave to diners recently at a vinter's dinner to demonstrate how well the Gipson family's Texas wines pair with different foods. Gipson said he makes presentations at about 40 or 50 wine tasting dinners a year and enjoys discovering new pairings for Pheasant Ridge Wines, which are produced by his family near Lubbock, Texas. Pheasant Ridge, which produces about 10,000 cases of wine per year, is one of the oldest wineries in Texas.

"We try to look for unusual things to do, like pouring our Pinot Noir (a light, fruity red wine) with crme brle for desert, said Gipson, whose father, William E. Gipson Sr. founded Pheasant Ridge in 1971. "We've even served our Cabernet Sauvignon with a dessert made with a rich chocolate sauce. That sort of puts you in an area of contradictions, pairing a big, bold, dry Cabernet with the sweet chocolate." For an even better pairing, Gipson would accent the chocolate dessert with strawberries or raspberries.

"Just experiment and use your imagination," Gipson advised. For example, a home cook planning a wine tasting dinner should taste the wines ahead of time and consider what recipes he or she could use to complement the wines' flavors. Or, people who participate in wine tasting groups can brainstorm as they taste a wine and discuss possible food pairings. "Just play with your senses and come up with food ideas," Gipson added.

Tracy Dees, chef at Fairway Oaks Country Club in Abilene, Texas, the site of one of Gipson's recent vintner's dinners, added to Gipson's wine pairing advice. "Design the menu around the types of wines that you enjoy and the types of foods you like to eat. You don't even have to serve elegant, expensive foods to go along with certain wines. You can get a good wine pairing for chicken fried steak. I think Bordeaux goes really well with chicken fried steak."

One of the most unusual, though successful, food pairings Gipson has seen with Pheasant Ridge wines was his Dry Chenin Blanc, a light, crisp white wine, paired with a tossed green salad and vinaigrette dressing served over a beefy-textured, grilled portabella mushroom. That combination was orchestrated by a chef at The Houston Club in Houston, Texas.

At a dinner in an Italian food restaurant in Waco, Texas, recently, the chef paired Pheasant Ridge Merlot, a red wine, with a dish featuring chicken and bow tie pasta.

"Normally, you'd think of a Chardonnay or a Chenin Blank or Pinot Grigio (all white wines) or something lighter to go with chicken, but this pasta dish was very spicy and the Merlot actually went well with it," Gipson said. "I don't think it's wrong to have a red wine with chicken or fish, as long as it doesn't overpower the particular dish. The key is contradictions, flavors from opposite ends that bounce off each other."

Although the old rules for pairing foods with wines can be bent and twisted a bit, some combinations still just don't work together. For example, a light, flaky poached sea bass just won't hold up when paired with reds such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot. By the same token, Chardonnay, a white wine, won't work with heavier dishes such as lamb, roast beef or a spicy Italian dish.

Learning to enjoy new foods and wines and pairing the two together simply comes with some experience, Gipson said. His own palate began to broaden when he began traveling to different places outside of his West Texas hometown of Midland. "I was raised on meatloaf and mashed potatoes," Gipson recalled. "I don't think I had seafood until I was 12 or 13 years old. But travel developed my appetite for different foods. For example, the first time I was in Italy, I couldn't stand the coffee. Now, I drink that coffee at home."

What Goes with Texas Wines

Although Gipson appreciates a variety of foods, he maintains that beef steak is probably still his favorite. He also has a list of favorite other foods that pair well with Pheasant Ridge wines.

These include:

  • Dry Chenin Blanc: Fried calamari (squid) with Marinara Sauce
  • Barrel Fermented Chardonnay: Smoked salmon
  • Pinot Noir: Roast turkey, blackened red snapper or Cornish game hen
  • Merlot: Lamb
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: Rib-eye steak

A good resource for recipes that either use Texas wines as ingredients or pair well with Texas wines is Frank R. Giordano Jr.'s cookbook, Vintage Texas: Cooking With Lone Star Wines (See recipe below.). Copyright 2001 Pamela Slover Percival

RECIPES

Lobster Bisque (Pair with Pheasant Ridge Barrel Fermented Chardonnay)

From Chef Tracy Dees, Fairway Oaks Country Club

  • 2 Tbsp. chopped parsley
  • ¼ cup finely chopped scallions
  • ¼ cup finely chopped celery
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 large pressed garlic cloves
  • 2½ cups chopped cooked lobster meat
  • ¼ tsp. fresh chopped dill
  • Dash cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp. Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
  • 4 cups reduced lobster stock
  • 3 cups heavy cream
  • ½ cup sherry wine
  • 2 Tbsp. olive oil
  • Salt and white pepper, to taste
In large saucepan that is warmed, place olive oil, scallions, celery and garlic. Saut until wilted. Add thyme, dill, and sherry; reduce flame for a couple of minutes to cook away alcohol. Add stock, cayenne, Worcestershire and heavy cream. Cook to almost a boil. Thicken with a thin paste of cornstarch and water to a consistency you prefer. Stir in lobster meat, reduce heat for about a minute (take from heat); stir in salt and white pepper to your taste. Either top each serving with chopped parsley or stir it into the bisque.

Chicken a la Bourguignonne

From Vintage Texas: Cooking With Lone Star Wines
  • 8 pieces chicken (breasts or thighs)
  • 2 slices bacon
  • 1 large onion, sliced
  • 2 Tbsp. flour
  • 3 Tbsp. butter
  • 1 cup Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon
  • ½ cup water
  • 8 oz. sliced mushrooms
Brown chicken pieces in butter with bacon and onions until golden. Sprinkle with flour and season with salt and pepper, if desired. Add the Pheasant Ridge wine and water. Mix until sauce is thickened. Cover and cook 30 minutes over low heat. Stir in mushrooms and cook an additional 15 minutes. Serves 6-8.

Recipe courtesy of Bill Gipson Sr., owner of Pheasant Ridge Winery. Serve with Pheasant Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon.

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