THE GOCHISO GOURMET: Pigs and Pinot

We barely had time to catch a couple of winks aboard Northwest Airlines’ red-eye flight out of Honolulu before touching down at SFO and heading straight to the Ferry Building Marketplace and the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market. Why the rush to go grocery shopping? To find the freshest produce and meat for the Pigs & Pinot event in Mill Valley. Didn’t “Top Chef” already air that episode? Same name, but this particular event was hosted by none other than one of the old Nichi Bei Times’ Two Japanee Bruddahs columnists. The simple invitation request for the occasion: Bring one pork dish and a pork-friendly bottle of Pinot Noir. Finding a suitable Pinot Noir should be no problem at the Ferry Plaza Wine Merchant, but what dish do I create?

Finding Swine

I could have taken the easy path and simply purchased product from Boccalone Salumeria where Chef Cosentino is known for producing “Tasty Salted Pig Parts.” However, cured pork products are usually a little too robust for Pinot Noir. Though Pinot pairs with a wide range of foods, salted pork products usually aren’t one of them. Think robust fish, any white meat including pork, chicken or — gasp — rabbit, along with a bevy of hearty vegetables… you get the idea. How about stuffed pork tenderloin with roasted spuds? Pork tenderloin, check. Assorted fresh mushrooms, check. Fresh thyme, check. Fingerling potatoes, check. Porchetta sandwich, check. Wait a minute, what’s the porchetta sandwich for? Lunch, silly — OK  check.

California Pinot Noir

As I highlighted in a column several years ago, Pinot Noir is a fickle grape variety that’s prone to genetic mutation over time. While it can grow in most wine producing areas, it tends to only produce great wine in marginal growing conditions where the south-facing slopes give just enough sun exposure for sugar ripening but cool breezes allow for physiological maturity. In California, the major growing areas are the Central Coast, including the Santa Lucia Highlands, and farther north in the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast. Both provide cool offshore breezes that delay sugar ripening and allow the grape to develop physiological characteristics like phenolic flavor components and acid that is necessary for great Pinot Noir wine.

In comparison with their northern cousins, I find that the wines of the Central Coast tend to have richer flavor profiles and fruit concentration with loads of spice, including Asian spice. If you enjoy Syrah and Zinfandel, these are the Pinot Noirs for you. These wines are as hearty as Pinot Noir gets and can pair with rich pork dishes including cassoulet.

With Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot, it’s more about terroir and finesse. These wines are usually lighter in color but balanced on the palate with a pleasing balance of earth, fruit, acid and tannin. If you enjoy Champagne and white wines, these are the Pinots for you.

Oregon Pinot Noir

Still farther up the continent is another hotbed of Pinot Noir: the Willamette Valley of Oregon. As California wine prices started to climb in the early ’90s, Oregon wines were initially seen as a cost-friendly alternative — maybe not as good as California wine, but a lot more affordable. Today the quality of Oregonian wines, especially Pinot Noir, rivals those in the Golden State. Unfortunately the cost has also followed suit to the point where great California and Oregon Pinot Noir will set you back the same dinero. Oh well. Oregonian Pinot Noir seems to sit right between the flavor profiles of Central Coast and Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir — a little more concentrated than Sonoma Coast wines, but a little more terroir than Central Coast wines.

Alternative Pinot Noir

Pinot Noir also is grown in New Zealand and Germany. Surprisingly, New Zealand produces rich, fruit-forward wine (surprising because the Central Otago region of New Zealand is as cold as grape vines tolerate, making Chicago look balmy) while Germany expectedly produces a lighter, perfumy wine due to the extreme climate there. I could elaborate further but that’s material for another column.

The Lineup

the 2007 Peay Scallop Shelf Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

2007 Peay Scallop Shelf
Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir —
One of my top three favorites; a very nice balance of fruit, earth, acid and tannin with a seamless flow across the palate.

2006 Anthill Farms Anderson Valley Pinot Noir — Finesse on the nose and palate, and very food friendly.

2004 Whitcraft Winery Morning Dew Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noir — Also about finesse more than concentration, with earthier terroir and a touch more spice.

NV Jean Vesselle Oeil de Perdrix Brut — Not pure Pinot Noir but pure Pinot (Noir and Meunierre that is).

The 2006 Aubert Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir

2006 Aubert UV Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir — A perennial favorite of mine; a perfect marriage of old world Burgundian restraint and new world fruit centered flavor — and seamless on the palate!

2005 Roco Willamette Valley Pinot Noir — Rich, concentrated fruit with hints of mineral.

2006 Elk Cove Vineyard Willamette Valley Pinot Noir — A little more restrained than usual Oregonian Pinot, with semi-dried red fruit, a touch of mineral and a nice finish.

2007 Joseph Swan Vineyards Cuvee de Trois Russian River Valley Pinot Noir — Another of the top three faves, with a nice balance of fruit, acid and silky tannin; very food friendly.

2005 Siduri Gary’s Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir — Rich, ripe concentrated fruit with loads of Asian spice and a long finish.

How Did My Creation Turn Out?

For starters, it was a treat to finally be able to shop at the Saturday Ferry Plaza Farmers Market during our brief vacation in the Bay Area.

We always pay homage to the Ferry Building Marketplace, but are usually left a bit unfulfilled after leaving having only been able to “window shop” at the Farmers Market.

I don’t think the staff at the Kabuki Hotel wants us using their kitchen to cook seasonal mushrooms and produce or bake with fresh cheese and butter.

However the Japanee Bruddah’s ample kitchen allowed us the “luxury” of purchasing AND cooking the bounty of the Bay Area.

I first purchased a couple of pork tenderloins from the Golden Gate Meat Company — I originally intended on procuring my pork from an independent Farmers Market vender but $40-plus for a two pound tenderloin!

I then picked up several pounds of mixed fresh mushrooms from Far West Fungi — shiitake, crimini, oyster, etc., then some fresh herbs (mainly thyme and parsley) from a Farmers Market vender.

Lastly I intended on roasting mixed fingerling potatoes (from another Farmers Market vender) and mushrooms coated in cured pork fat (lardo from Boccalone) or artisanal bacon (to keep within the pork theme) but decided that too much pork fat might be too much of a good thing and left discretion as the better part of valor (I settled on extra virgin olive oil).

The pan-sautéed, mushroom-stuffed pork tenderloin with simple pan reduction sauce served with roasted fingerling spuds and mushrooms I believe lived up to the Pork & Pinot theme adequately… but you’ll have to ask guests that were present.

The Gochiso Gourmet is a column on food, wine and healthy eating. Ryan Tatsumoto is a graduate of both the University of Hawai‘i at Manoa and University of California at San Francisco. He is a clinical pharmacist during the day and a budding chef/recipe developer/wine taster at night. He writes from Kaneohe, Hawai‘i and can be reached at gochisogourmet@yahoo.com.

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