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A Menu for Young Reds

Using food to tame red wines that lack only maturity

Harvey Steiman
Posted: January 17, 2001

Salmon Fillets With Balsamic Vinaigrette

Spicy Pork Tenderloins With Pancetta

Chocolate Mint Tart

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A Menu for Young Reds

Using food to tame red wines that lack only maturity

By Harvey Steiman

In a perfect world, we would drink red wines only at that optimum moment when they deliver all they can, when the tannins and other imperfections of youth have quietly subsided into the background. But we consume a great many red wines before they reach that plateau of maturity, and for good reason. Smart wine drinkers prefer to catch great wines on the way up, not as they decline. We also like to try a new purchase destined for the cellar, to make sure it is a sound wine and to get an idea of how long to age the bottling. However, we tend to drink young reds more often than we would like to admit, since few restaurants offer mature wine, and because its so costly when they do. Still, young reds can be highly enjoyable. Modern winemaking aims for softer, less bothersome tannins, which makes for smoother, more approachable young red wine. And compatible foods can tame those tannins even further, which is the point of this menu.

The easiest way to address an excess of tannin in wine is with fat and protein. Buttery, creamy sauces coat the mouth so the tannins in the wine dont stick to our cheeks so readily. Rare red meats-like thick, juicy steak or rosy leg of lamb-do a similar job with their natural fats and protein-rich juices. You cant go wrong with a roasted chicken, either, but keep it juicy, and dont let it overcook.

Mellow acidity can also polish the edges of a fresh red. This is the principle I applied in creating this first course. The salmon fillets are grilled to pick up a smoky edge (the better to complement the smoky oak notes often present in young reds), and are served with a balsamic vinaigrette and delicate enoki mushrooms.

A variety of red wines reacted to the dish by seeming to mature in the glass, picking up slightly earthier flavors and losing some of their harshness. A 1998 Dolcetto, which is not very tannic to begin with, benefited the least, while a serious 1997 Chianti Classico Riserva improved the most. However, the best match of all was with Archery Summit Pinot Noir Oregon Premier Cuvée 1998 (93, $39). Typical of the vintage, it has significant tannins but is harmonious by itself. The salmon and the vinegar worked to bring out more of its floral, plummy flavors.

Young Zinfandels (and similar reds) like dishes with crisp pancetta sprinkled on them. The meaty flavor of pancetta, which is basically bacon without the smoke, suggests that roast pork would also pair well with the wine. Spicier dishes also tend to match up well with these wines, so the next recipe, Spicy Pork Tenderloins With Pancetta, uses a peppery rub to make a simple roast-pork tenderloin special. The dish does not soften young red wines much, but it makes them seem a little more aristocratic. It worked with young Bordeaux, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Chianti, but the one that fared the best was Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino 1997 (87, $19). Supple, generous and round, its black cherry and floral flavors pick up a hint of chocolate on the finish. With the dish, the Zin loses a little of its youthful ebullience, but becomes a bit classier.

Matching cheese with red wine is very challenging. Some matches work so well that its mind-boggling; however, the textures and flavors of a ripe cheese can also kill a red wine, making its tannins Brillo-pad scratchy and destroying its fruit flavors. Hard cheeses seem to work best, particularly those that mellow appreciably with age. Parmigiano-Reggiano, always a safe bet, was the star with the young red wines in this tasting. California dry jack, which has similar texture but a different flavor profile, went almost as well with all the reds, especially the Pinot Noir and a 1998 Burgundy.

The wines also liked pecorino Toscano. This sheeps milk cheese from Tuscany, more moist than the Parmigiano or the jack, has a firm and slightly crumbly texture. Brie, on the other hand, made all the wines taste tougher. It was the soft, creamy texture, not the flavor, that seemed to ratchet up the wines tannins. Aged Gouda should have worked because of its dry, crumbly texture, but its strong flavor clashed with the youthful fruit in the wines. A smoked cheese was nicer with the bigger wines than with the lighter ones, as the lighter wines became too tough. Forget about blue cheeses. Their moldy flavors do not do red wines any favors. Drink sweet wines with them.

With this cheese course, you might want to open a Cabernet Sauvignon such as Grgich Hills Napa Valley 1996 (87, $45). It is still firm and tannic, but has delicious berry and sage flavors. Parmigiano really polished it up, and the pecorino meshed with it as if they were made for each other.

It may seem like heresy to open a dry red with dessert, but I can think of two reasons to do so. Not only does it add one more taste sensation to the party, it demonstrates what a nice combination red wine and chocolate can be. Be sure to drink some of the wine by itself before serving dessert so you can savor the differences. The Chocolate Mint Tart is not very sweet, which is essential to making it work with the Hogue Merlot Columbia Valley Vineyard Selection 1998 (87, $16). The soft tannins of the Merlot do not get in the way—and its a real eye-opener for those who have not tried it.


1 1/2 pounds salmon fillet
3/4 cup red wine
1/2 cup unsalted chicken broth
1 shallot, finely chopped
1 bay leaf
Salt, freshly ground pepper
14 ounces, or 4 packages, 3 1/2 ounces each, enoki mushrooms
3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2/3 cup pure olive oil
Chervil or Italian parsley leaves

Dry the salmon fillets with paper towels and remove any remaining bones with tweezers or a pair of pliers. Place the salmon fillets skin-side up and cut them crosswise into six equal-size slices. Lightly season each slice with salt and pepper.

In a non-reactive pan, boil the wine and chicken broth with the shallot and bay leaf until it reduces in volume to 1/2 cup; this should take about 10 to 15 minutes. Let the mixture cool, then strain it over the salmon. Let the fillets marinate for about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, trim off the bottoms of the enoki mushrooms (where they are connected) to separate them. Transfer them to a mixing bowl.

In a small jar, combine the balsamic vinegar and the olive oil. Add 1/4 teaspoon salt and a few grinds of pepper. Shake the jar well and use 2 or 3 tablespoons of it to moisten the mushrooms. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Remove the salmon fillets from the marinade and boil down the marinating liquid over high heat until it reduces in volume to 1 or 2 tablespoons. Add it to the remaining vinaigrette, and again shake the jar well.

Season the salmon fillets lightly with salt and pepper and grill them skin-side down for 8 minutes over an open flame or in a hot skillet. Turn them and finish the cooking skin-side up. Remove them from the pan and set them aside to rest for about 3 minutes.

Divide the enoki mushrooms among the plates. Serve the fillets over the enoki mushrooms. Shake the vinaigrette again, and drizzle it over the salmon and around the plate. Garnish with chervil or parsley leaves. Serves 6.


4 ounces pancetta
1/2 cup shelled hazelnuts (filberts), roasted and rubbed in a towel to remove their papery coating
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon anise seed
1/2 teaspoon ground sage
3 small pork tenderloins, about 1 1/2 pounds total
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1/2 cup red wine
1 tablespoon brandy or other liquor (optional)
1 cup concentrated unsalted pork broth or chicken broth
6 yellow crookneck or straightneck squash, ends cut off
1 bunch watercress, for garnish

Fry the pancetta in its own fat (or you could start it with a little vegetable oil) until it is crispy and brown. This should take 7 to 10 minutes at medium heat. Drain it well on paper towels. Crumble the pancetta into pieces no larger than 1/2 inch.

Put the nuts in a blender or food processor and run it until they become a thick paste. (You might need to add 1 teaspoon vegetable oil to get it started.) Set the hazelnut butter aside. There should be about 3 tablespoons.

Preheat the oven to 350° F. Mix the salt, pepper, cumin, anise and sage well and spread the mixture over a sheet of wax paper. Pat the pork tenderloins dry with a towel and roll each one in the seasoning mixture.

In a large skillet, heat the oil and brown the pork well on all sides, cooking for about 10 minutes. Put the pork in a baking pan and roast it in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes, or until the pork is just barely cooked through: It should reach 160° F. on the meat thermometer. Remove the pork from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes, covered with foil, before slicing.

Meanwhile, make the sauce. Pour off all of the fat from the skillet in which you browned the pork. Add the wine and brandy. Boil the mixture until it reduces in volume by one-half, scraping up the brown bits left behind by the pork to dissolve them. Add the broth and bring to a boil. Let the sauce boil 2 to 3 minutes, then stir in the hazelnut butter. The sauce should be just thick enough to coat the spoon. Strain it to make it very smooth and return it to the pan to reheat. Taste for seasoning.

While the pork is cooking, cut the squash into 3/4-inch slices and cook them in 1/2 cup water with a little salt for 5 minutes. Drain them well and set them aside.

Cut the pork into 1/4-inch slices. Add the carving juices to the sauce for more flavor. Serve several slices on a plate surrounded by slices of the squash.

Top the pork with a spoonful or two of the sauce and sprinkle some of the pancetta over the entire plate. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and garnish the plate with a handful of watercress. Serves 6.


10 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/2 cup heavy whipping cream
1/3 cup milk
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1/4 cup mint schnapps
One 9 1/2-inch tart shell made from your favorite sweet dough, prebaked and cooled

Preheat the oven to 325° F.

Put the chopped chocolate in a mixing bowl. In a saucepan, mix the cream and milk and bring the mixture to a boil. Immediately pour the mixture over the chocolate. Let the chocolate soften for 30 seconds. In a separate bowl, mix the egg and schnapps with a whisk and stir it into the melted chocolate, mixing with a whisk until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.

Transfer the filling to the prebaked tart shell. Bake the tart 25 minutes, or until all but the center is set. Cool the tart on a wire rack for at least 10 minutes. Serve warm. Serves 6 to 8.

Wine Suggestions

In this monthly feature, editor at large Harvey Steiman assembles fresh and original menus, then matches them with wines that Wine Spectator has recommended or with other wines that have aged well. A variety of wines are tasted with each dish to find the best match. Other wines may be suitable, but try those listed here if you can. Should the wines selected for the menu be unavailable, choose an alternative with similar characteristics. Here are some suggestions:

Salmon Fillets With Balsamic Vinaigrette

First Choice: Archery Summit Pinot Noir Oregon Premier Cuvée 1998 (93, $39

Alternate Choices:Argyle Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1998 (90, $18), Rex Hill Pinot Noir Oregon Reserve 1998 (90, $48), Elk Cove Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 1998 (88, $18)

Spicy Pork Tenderloins With Pancetta

First Choice: Edmeades Zinfandel Mendocino 1997 (87, $19)

Alternate Choices: Cline Zinfandel Contra Costa County Ancient Vines 1997 (89, $20), Kunde Zinfandel Sonoma Valley 1997 (88, $15), Robert Mondavi Zinfandel Napa Valley 1997 (87, $19)

Parmigiano-Reggiano, Pecorino Toscano, California Dry Jack

First Choice: Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 (91, $40)

Alternate Choices: Burgess Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley Vintage Selection 1997 (90, $34), Stag's Leap Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1997 (90, $35), St. Clement Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 1996 (90, $30)

Chocolate Mint Tart

First Choice: Hogue Merlot Columbia Valley Vineyard Selection 1998 (87, $16)

Alternate Choices: Canoe Ridge Merlot Columbia Valley 1998 (87, $21), Latah Creek Merlot Washington Wahluke Slope Vineyards 1998 (87, $16), Columbia Crest Merlot Columbia Valley Estate Vineyards (87, $16)

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