I recently had the great opportunity to indulge in a fantastic dinner, hosted by friends. The Persian couple created a potluck in which individuals brought their own Persian dishes to share. Little has been written on wine pairings for Persian food. However, eminent Persian chef, Najmieh Batmanglij , has written four Persian cookbooks and also wrote a book discussing the history of winemaking in Persia (http://www.najmieh.com/cookbooks/book-reviews/from-persia-to-napa-wine-at-the-persian-table/) and modern wine pairings for classic Persian dishes. With our Persian Potluck I wanted to find great wine pairings for famous Persian dishes.
Now for a brief history lesson -- drinking wine is currently illegal in Iran, despite Iran being one of the birthplaces of wine. The city of Shiraz in Iran once was one of the world centers for wine but now sadly is filled with many unattended grape vines. Shiraz is known as the city of poets, wine, literature, and flowers. The city was perfectly primed for growing grapes, being at a high elevation, more than 1500 meters, which led to some excellent growing conditions. The Shirazi wine produced was white, available in both dry and sweet varieties.
Shirazi wine has nothing to do with the Shiraz grape. Unlike the white Shirazi wine, the Shiraz, or Syrah grape makes some of the darkest wine around. The Shiraz grape has French – not Persian – ancestry. Shirazi wine had such a strong reputation that it even received a British seal of approval in the 9th century. While the post-Iranian revolution rules disallows any wine consumption, Shirazi grapes can still be consumed both fresh and as raisins. So while we did not have any Shirazi grapes at our gathering, there were many dishes that seemed to pair well with the aromatic whites that were once grown in Shiraz. For instance, a number of dishes need a higher acidity aromatic white to cut through the food. For instance, the dish Khoresh Karafs, a celery stew, paired beautifully with the 2014 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc (WWB, 90). This combined the citrus and grassy components of the wine and dishes. Another nice pairing was the Olovieh Salad, a chicken and potato salad with a rich mayonnaise type sauce. The wine pairing was the 2013 Etude Chardonnay (WWB, 92), a wine that had nice richness and butter components to connect with the dense sauce of the dish but didn’t overpower the dish, as the wine has strong mineral streak. Finally, probably the most difficult challenge of all was the Fesenjoon, a pomegranate stew made with chicken. This was a rich and thick sauce that needed something to compliment the flavors. I considered many options but ended up pairing the 2013 Stoller Estate Pinot Noir (WWB, 90), a wine that has tremendous balance but also has nice earthy characteristics with some pomegranate and red cherry flavors that matched the flavor profiles of the Fesenjoon. That one turned out to be hugely challenging but worked better than anticipated. Look for these wines at wine shops such as Total Wines or BevMo.
Here are my wine pairings for these tricky dishes. Be sure to try them out during this busy holiday season. Be sure to let me know what you think about the pairings!
2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc (WWB, 91)
Alternate pairing: 2014 Poet’s Leap Riesling (WWB, 93)
The 2014 Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc is a rich and intense white with a strong mineral structure. Due to the high acidity of the Shirazi salad, you want a wine that also matches the high acidity. New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs fit the bill here. A second choice would be the 2014 Poet’s Leap Riesling by Longshadows, one of the premier producers of Washington wine. The 2014 Poet’s Leap also has a wonderful acid structure and is only slightly sweet. That touch of sweetness will not detract from this astringent dish, but adds to it, with flavors of pear and red delicious apple that work well with the salad. The structure and minerality of these wine selections are outstanding and compliment this refreshing salad well.
2012 E’ Guigal Cotes du Rhone (WWB, 90) or 2012 Delas Cotes du Rhone (WWB, 89)
The idea behind this wine is I wanted to utilize some better, more fruit driven vintages in the Cotes du Rhone, which would still also provide earthy and mineral characteristics of the wine, as the dish itself has earthy and spice components. While 2013 was not the best vintage in this area, 2012 was a richer vintage and is recommended. The Cotes du Rhone region is known for its Provençale herb profile, which I thought would pair nicely to this herbaceous dish. These recommended producers will give you a lot of bang for the buck. I have had more than 5 previous vintages of E Guigal Cotes du Rhone in the past and they have all impressed for the price.
2012 Januik Cabernet (WWB, 91) or 2012 Novelty Hill Cabernet (WWB, 91)
Mike Januik crafts both of these Cabernets and was former winemaker at Chateau St. Michelle before starting his own winery. He is a superstar winemaker that makes wines of tremendous value. The reasoning behind this pairing is the Cabernet is a great pairing for a fatty style meat. These particular Washington Cabernets have a wonderful acid structure that will cut nicely through the fat of the Cotlet. There is also earthy and herbaceous tones to these wines are they have nice fruit but are far from purely fruit driven Cabernets. There is a nice spice and herb component to the Cotlet with the Tumeric and Advieh spices, so this balanced Cabernet will connect with that nicely.
2013 Columbia Crest H3 Chardonnay (WWB, 90)
Alternate pairing, 2013 Darioush Chardonnay (WWB, 92)
The 2013 Columbia Crest H3 Chardonnay is one of the world’s best value white wines. It easily could be price twice what it retails for. The wine has a wonderful creamy texture and minerality that makes it balance the Tahcheen nicely. The idea is you don’t want something that will overpower the saffron and yoghurt components of this dish. The creamy connection between food and wine and the classic pairing of Chardonnay and chicken seems to work nicely. Some Chardonnays can be heavy and too extracted, or if their balance of oak is too much, then you will not be able to fully enjoy the saffron components of this dish. The H3 Chardonnay has nice fruit and oak, but not too much to overpower the saffron. Finally, Darioush, founded and currently owned by a Persian businessman, is known for making some of the best Chardonnay in Napa Valley. This is a style of Chard that is mineral driven, food friendly but still has richness to stand alone. The structure of this vibrant wine is superb, making it a lovely Persian compliment to the Tasheen. While the price point of the Darioush Chardonnay is considerably higher than the H3 Chardonnay, the Darioush is a perfect wine for a special occasion.
2014 Chateau St. Michelle 'Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard' Sauvignon Blanc (WWB, 90)
Alternate pairing: 2014 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc (WWB, 90)
Here you have the celery stew dish that makes this a perplexing pairing for most sommeliers. The earthiness of this dish necessitates a wine that has some earthy elements. The 2014 Chateau St. Michelle ‘Horse Heaven Hills Vineyard’ Sauvignon Blanc has a wonderful minerality and a cut grass element that combines some nice citrus elements and high acid structure and citrus components that cuts through the richness of the stew. One of the best values in white wine out there is the 2014 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc. This is a very versatile wine that has a rich tropical fruit flavor profile but also has secondary flavors of cut grass and jalapeno pepper. The structure of this wine is superb, making it a nice pairing alongside the Khoresh Karafs.
2012 Chateau Beaucastel ‘Cadoulet du Beaucastel’ (WWB, 90)
Alternate pairing: 2012 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone (WWB, 90)
The 2012 ‘Cadoulet du Beaucastel’ comes from one of the most famous wineries in Chateauneuf du Pape, Chateau Beaucastel. There is a lovely earthy and terroir driven side to this wine that makes it a great choice for the herbs in the dish. This wine is balanced and has excellent structure and rich fruit. The Loobia Polo has a beef component that makes it need a wine that has some stuffing but the dish is also delicate, so too much fruit and the dish will not be well-complimented. This becomes a complicated pairing because you want a wine to connect with the saffron and rice flavors, and not overpower them. The 2012 vintage in the Cotes du Rhone produced some impressive and fruit driven wines. The 2012 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone delivers some serious fruit with a lovely acid structure that cuts through the fat of the beef. It is also a wonderful pairing and does not break the bank, weighing in at around 20 dollars.
2013 Etude ‘Estate’ Chardonnay (WWB, 92);
Alternate pairing: 2014 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay (WWB, 93).
Due to the richness of this dish and the components of chicken and potato, you need a white wine that is rich. When you add the mayonnaise to the salad, this makes the dish even richer. The Etude Chardonnay is a rich and powerful wine that will connect to the richness of the salad. There are also citrus elements in the wine that complement the salad well. Finally, the structure and acidity of the wine is marvelous and will cut through the fatty mayonnaise components of the dish. The alternate pairing comes from Woodward Canyon, who has been crafting some of the best Washington Chardonnay for decades. The 2014 Woodward Canyon Chardonnay comes from a warm vintage. This wine has gobs of ripe fruit to the wine, including pear and golden delicious apple flavors, alongside buttery components. Woodward brings a wonderful minerality and structure to this wine that will compliment, rather than overpower the Olovieh salad.
2013 DeLille Cellars ‘Chaleur Estate Blanc’ (WWB, 95)
Alternate pairing: 2013 Merry Edwards Sauvignon Blanc (WWB, 92); 2014 Groth Sauvignon Blanc (WWB, 91).
This is absolutely one of my favorite Persian dishes and is nearly an impossible dish to pair, so I am going to go with some guesswork here. Merry Edwards is known for making some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in North America. Similarly, DeLille Cellars makes some of the best Bordeaux style white wine in the country. If you don’t want to pay their $45.00 price tags, then consider the 2014 Ferrari-Carano Fume Blanc ($12.00). Kashk Bademjoon is one of my favorite Persian dishes. The richness and flavors of the eggplant, combined with the Persian spice flavors are impossible to resist. The pairing with this rich dish is a wine that can cut through the acid, which is where the Sauvignon Blanc comes in. While Chardonnay could possibly work as well, Sauvignon Blanc tends to have a higher minerality. The 2013 DeLille Cellars is one of my top domestic wines for this year. The wine is an absolute stunner, made of 65% Sauvignon Blanc and 35% Semillon. It has aromas of lemongrass and cantaloupe with flavors of Meyer lemon, cantaloupe, butter lemon lime flavors and incredible balance. The smooth components of the wine as well as the buttery components really connect with the richness of the wine, while having the acid structure to stand up to the richness of the Bademjoon. Groth makes an excellent Sauvignon Blanc. I recently had the chance to review their portfolio of wines and the 2014 Groth Sauvignon Blanc is a lovely and layered blend of 91% Sav Blanc and 9% Semillon. The Semillon component of the wine give it a creamier texture and make it less sharp, so Fume Blanc works nicely with this pairing. Many of the classic pairings for Mediterranean style food that involve eggplant are higher acid wines. Sauvignon Blanc definitely fits the bill there, so try this pairing out.
Pairing: 2013 Stoller ‘Estate’ Oregon Pinot Noir (WWB, 90)
Alternate pairing: 2013 Argyle ‘Nuthouse’ Pinot Noir (WWB, 93).
I wanted to choose something that will connect with the pomegranate aspect of this dish. The dish is heavy and rich, so you need a higher acid wine to cut through the richness of the dish. Pinot Noir is a high acid red wine that pairs nicely with the chicken and does not overpower the dish. Oregon Pinots are known for their Burgundian or lighter, more restrained, style. They have fruit components but pair beautifully with a variety of foods due to their balance and structure. The 2013 Stoller Pinot Noir is a balanced wine that has nice fruit and mineral components. This pairing worked beautifully. The alternate pairing is the 2013 Argyle ‘Nuthouse’ Pinot Noir. While this commands a higher price point, the wine is elegant, rich and has a wonderful minerality that pairs beautifully with the Fesenjoon. This wine also has some pomegranate components in the fruit structure that will pair nicely with the Persian dish.