I know food and wine pairings can be transcendental, but sometimes I’m handed a wine list with an impossible mission: Pick a single bottle of wine to go with a variety of clashing flavors.
This happened the other day while I was at San Francisco's Limon Rotisserie, a hopping Peruvian joint where the aroma of chickens roasting over open flames is intoxicating. I was with a couple friends and, by the time I was given the task of picking out a bottle of wine, the table had already ordered one of these succulent rotisserie chickens, a side of garlic-sautéed vegetables called vegetables salteados and sirloin-stuffed empanadas. Oh, and an order of ceviche to start.
The table wanted a bottle of red wine, which seemed straightforward enough, except that I know from experience that red wine can sometimes make raw fish (let alone raw fish with fresh lime juice) taste metallic and harsh. No one wanted a glass of white or a cocktail to start, so I crossed my fingers, ordered a bottle of Bodegas Atamisque Malbec Tupungato Catalpa Old Vines 2009 ($37 on the list), and warned my dinner companions that the wine might clash with the fish.
When the wine came, it was a pleasantly jammy, rustic and toasty red, with some burly tannins. Straightforward and hearty, it was perfect for a blustery San Francisco night. I rated it 86 points, non-blind.
As expected, the Malbec was a nice match with the smoky chicken and the empanadas, and especially wonderful with the caramelized vegetables. Yes, it clashed with the ceviche, but I was reminded again that—when the food is delicious, the wine is hitting the spot and the company is fantastic—such details don’t matter so much.
• Get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated high-scoring Argentinean Malbecs.