Photo by Isaac Harrell
Barbera d'Alba and Pasta
Enoteca Sogno, 1223 Bellevue Ave.
A big red like the Barbera d'Alba Ciabot Camerano from Italy's Piedmont region and a hearty penne dish chock full of tomatoes and spicy sausage hits the spot. Why? Because the proteins from the pork break down the tannins of the Barbera, bringing the fruit forward and emphasizing its full bouquet. It's a wine substantial enough to handle the addition of creamy ricotta and bitter rappini to this flavorful fall entrée. Dining at Enoteca is treat enough, but owner Gary York's passion for wine, especially those from Italy, is reason enough to visit this charming North Side eatery.
Pinot Noir and Duck
Julep's New Southern Cuisine, 1719 E. Franklin St.
The melty tenderness of duck confit in puff pastry with goat cheese, blackberries and thyme gastrique would have been a bit much for a lesser wine, but the versatile Kenwood Pinot Noir from the Russian River (in Northern California's Sonoma County) complements the berry and herbal notes in this lively dish. Wine, of course, was made to go with food. Every mouthful literally washes the palette. In this example, the acid from this refined red clears the richness of the rendered duck fat, enhancing each successive bite.
French Chardonnay and Fish
Can Can Brasserie, 3120 W. Cary St.
Selected by sommelier Bob Talcott, this French white is made of 100 percent unoaked Chardonnay. In contrast to the buttery ones from California, this sophisticated choice hints of green melon. It is clean and bracing, thus cutting through the richness of the companion dish I chose: pan-seared grouper atop fava bean puree and a "succotash" of corn, green and yellow beans and zucchini. While this pairing is subtle, the fish is tamed by the refreshing acidity of this Verget Macon-Villages Terres de Pierres from Burgundy. (Note that Can Can's menu changes frequently, but this Chardonnay goes well with any firm-fleshed, flaky fish.)
Prosecco and Cheese
C'est le Vin, 15 N. 17th St.
Lighter than champagne, with a peachy sweetness, a glass of effervescent Villa Jolanda Prosecco pairs wonderfully with a small plate of braised Belgian endive, crumbled Gorgonzola and candied walnuts, the creation of chef Carly Herring. While purists might point to the Italian bubbly's snootier French cousin coupled with caviar, or Sauternes with foie gras, as more classic first-course pairings, it is the salty and savory with the sweet that makes this combo work. This bohemian wine bar and store also offers Glass and a Class, a $12 tango lesson with the right lubrication to get your feet moving.
Rasteau and Chocolate
Amour Wine Bistro, 3129 W. Cary St.
When pairing, the two options are either contrast or complement. Rasteau, a sweet, fortified wine from France's Rhône region that's made of 100 percent Grenache, has been called a chocoholic's dream wine. The French Valrhona cocoa powder lends a slight bitterness to this over-the-top chocolate salted caramel crème brulee and pairs beautifully with the Rasteau Vin Doux Naturel, a deep purple elixir bursting with blackberry and blueberry notes. Sweet and more sweet. A chocolate sorbet with candied orange peels accompanied by a Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise is just as magical.