I've certainly encountered many crazy wine pairings, but none more memorable than strawberries, sardines, and sparkling rosé. I wish I could take credit for it, but I have to tip my hat (and glass) to Chef Isma Prados. While on a sponsored trip with Segura Viudas, I got to tour Barecelona's famous La Boqueria Market with Isma and a small group of Cava compatriots. (Cava is Spain's signature contribution to the world of sparkling wine.)
Isma was a great guide; it seemed like every vendor knew him. Probably because he had been on TV for years with a show called "Cooking for Singles." (Hey, I was on a radio show where the episode was all about "Cooking for One." So we've got that in common.) And because he's a gregarious, charming dude as well as a fantastic cook. It's astonishing to note that more people visit La Boqueria than the iconic Gaudí-designed church, La Sagrada Família. (No comment on whether food is more popular than religion.) It also should be no surprise that Isma knows his way around food and wine pairings. He spent his formative years as a chef at a wine bar, La Vinya del Senyor, where the by-the-glass selection changed every fifteen days. So there was no time to rest on his culinary laurels.
After our tour, we ascended to a kitchen overlooking the market to get cooking. Ever the eager student/sous chef/prep cook, I volunteered to help Isma with the first dish. Little did I know it would involve strawberries, sardines, and sparkling rosé. Here I am hard at work putting the sardines in a ring mold. I later filed the mold with a mixture of strawberries, salmon caviar, onion, pomegranate seeds, and turnip sprouts. (The leftover olive oil from the marinating sardines was added as well.) Of course my main concern was not screwing it up. Isma gave me pretty free reign on putting together the strawberry mixture, so I was concerned that I put too much of this or not enough of that. And I had some irrational fear that somehow I was going to catch it on fire, even though no cooking was involved. And don't get me started about the unmolding! Fortunately, only one was poorly unmolded, and that was the one that I ended up eating. Here's a photo of how it's supposed to look. Chef Isma may or may not have been involved with this one:
But enough about the food; where's the dang wine? Chef Isma masterfully paired this sardine and strawberry dish with a sparkling rosé: the Segura Viudas Aria Pinot Noir. Why was it such a great match? The minerality of the sardines matched similar notes in the Cava. And the touch of sweetness paired nicely with the strawberries, while offsetting the spiciness of the onion and turnip sprouts. Additionally, the bubbles offered a refreshing counterpart to the rich salmon caviar. (Incidentally, I think this would be a great Cava for grilled salmon. Maybe even make a sauce or vinaigrette including some of this sparkling Pinot Noir.)
So I don't know if Chef Isma is ready to hire me, but I am grateful for the opportunity to work side-by-side with him. He certainly opened my mind to combining seemingly disparate flavors to create a balanced, original dish. And, best of all, gave me another reason to drink sparkling rosé.
For more on Cava, sparkling wine, and beyond, check out my blog, where I serve up Wine Without Worry. Special thanks to partner-in-Cava and fellow writer Kelly Magyarics for providing the photo of me and the finished plate. You can keep up with her on Twitter and sample her writing on her website.