KIMCHI…with red wine?
By Tara Q. Thomas
At Anne Saxelby’s all-American cheese store in NYC’s Essex Market, she offers a grilled cheese layered with kimchi. At Court Street Grocers in Brooklyn, kimchi gives a kick to a brisket sandwich. The Kimchi Taco Truck has nearly 8,000 people following its whereabouts on Twitter, hoping to score a “Kim-Cheesesteak” with a side of kimchi-spiked arancini. No longer the condiment acculturated Koreans feel they have to hide in the depths of the refrigerator, kimchi has made it onto the American table.Vly, with
Even so, wine, particularly red wine, isn’t an obvious match for kimchi. It’s most commonly made from cabbage, a sulfurous vegetable that may have an easier time in the company of white wine or beer, and it’s fermented, usually with spicy red pepper.
Valdiguié—a grape from Southern France that was mistaken for gamay in California vineyards for decades—makes a light, juicy wine with lots of delicate floral and herbal nuances. Tasting through a number of wines, we quickly established that any low-alcohol, low-tannin red was going to be a good bet with the spice of kimchi, but the valdiguié went a step further, its light layers of flavor highlighting the many dimensions of the kimchi, from vegetal to spicy and fruity.
“This is the one wine that holds its own with all of [the kimchis],” said Carla Rzeszewski of The Breslin. “It’s so juicy it feels like a reprieve.” Porto Carreiro agreed: “There’s a cool give-and-take here. It’s like a really good surfer catching a wave: The kimchi rides on the crest of the wine, and the elegance of the wine isn’t lost.” Demmond commented that the gamey note in the Pacalet plays up the umami of the kimchi. “Koreans would think this is bizarre,” said Kim, “but it reminds me of Korean barbecue with pork belly and kimchi.” Wine as meat; kimchi as garnish.
Monika Caha, a former chef turned Austrian wine importer, suggested zweigelt might make a kimchi-friendly pairing when we’d met her at Chun’s book launch. This bottling is in the juicy, simple mode, but has a little age. The combination worked terrifically with the kimchi, the mature notes drawing out the umami characteristics of the kimchi, and in the process throwing the fruit into bright relief. Bernie Sun of Jean-Georges gave this his top ranking in his personal three-tier system, which goes something like this: 1.) doesn’t work, 2.) zero–sum game, in which both wine and food stay the same, or 3.) dynamic—like this combination, in which both kimchi and wine tasted more complex together than they did apart.
We included this wine based on a comment on Eater by Yoon Ha, the wine director of Benu in San Francisco, who said he finds that Châteauneuf-du-Pape has a particular affinity for chef Corey Lee’s Asian-accented cuisine. In the case of the Guigal, it’s as if the spice of the wine makes room for the spice of the kimchi, the two blending into a complex tapestry of flavor. “There’s real interaction between the kimchi and the wine,” said Josh Greene, “a lot of interplay of flavors.” While some found the combination a little hot, Kim reminded us that you’d rarely eat kimchi without a side of rice. He often opts for Rhône wines, in fact, with Jungsik’s kimchi-sauced Waygu steak. “I used to go with Cornas,” he said, “but now I’ve changed to St-Joseph: all that black pepper and spice [flavor] translates well with the kimchi spice.”
This was a surprising combination: a crisp, very delicate, almost sweet white kimchi entirely free of red pepper, and a rich, deeply cherry-flavored malbec with mature notes of tobacco and earth and velvety tannins. “We serve a white truffle risotto with a bit of this white kimchi chopped up on top,” said Kim, explaining why he even tried the combination. “I usually go with a white, or an Amontillado Sherry, but after this, I think I’m going to rethink that.” It was as if the malbec’s lush fruit provided a velvet pillow to show off all the facets of the kimchi, from the crispness of its texture to its bright, gingery highlight. And, Chun added, “The white kimchi seems to freshen the malbec and bring out the acidity that was hidden.”
Photos reprinted with permission from The Kimchi Cookbook: 60 Traditional and Modern Ways to Make and Eat Kimchi, by Lauryn Chun, copyright (c) 2012. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc. Photo credit: Sara Remington (c) 2012