Irouléguy: or, How Poorly Korean Food Matches with ANY Wine

28 Feb

I know–I know: I promised #2 of the long, memorable wine tasting from Saturday. That will come soon. First, I want to take the time to review a quirky little wine and talk about stuff such as ethnic food pairing and how the bouquet of every wine smells like cherries.

There. I’ve said it. Maybe it’s because I’m a “neo-oenophile”, but almost every red wine smells like cherry. Almost every wine is evocative of cherry. I suppose this is somewhat understandable, given that wine = fruit = cherry (I got a B- in second-semester calculus, so you can be sure the transitive property applies here!). However, oft is the time I’ve opened a new bottle, poured a bit of its content into the waiting glass, swirled the liquid around and around, and raised the globe to my nose to smell one and but one thing: cherry.

One recent wine stands out as an exception to this rule. The Pleiades from Sean Thackrey, one of the wines I had at the Saturday tasting, smelled overwhelmingly of menthol–as in eucalyptus–and anise–as in biscotti. Cherry, it was not. Delicious and unique, it was. More about that particular wine in the promised post!

Speaking of unique wines, or, more properly, wine regions, there’s an obscure little appellation in Southwestern France–just by the Spanish border–called Irouléguy. This runs into the Basque area of Spain, and many people here speak Basque in addition to French and Spanish. The majority of red wines produced in this area is made of cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, and, most importantly, tannat.

Wine from Irouléguy is supposed to be rustic, deep, and brooding. I previously had an Irouléguy from Domaine Etxegaraya a few years back and remembered that I liked it a lot. Thus, when I saw an Irouléguy–this one from Domaine Ilarria–at Mission Wines at the last tasting, I picked it up for home:


Its composition: 70% tannat, 20% cabernet franc, 10% cabernet sauvignon. Tannat, with its firm, tannic grip and dark, purple color, predominates in this wine.

I opened it yesterday right before a Korean meal of rice, kimchi, pollack roe, spinach cakes, fish–pretty much a wine pairing nightmare. I knew I only had a few minutes to enjoy the wine unsullied by the sledgehammer tastes of red pepper, shrimp paste, vinegar, roe… I opened the bottle of Ilarria, poured some into a glass, gave it a long, hard swirl, and brought the globe to my nose.

Again, cherry. Damn it. But more, too. Was that… oregano? Blackberry, maybe. I was really grasping at straws here.

The taste: straw! Earth. I tasted the sweet, bitter, slimy taste of persimmon. Some herbs. The tannins made themselves known, though they weren’t at all unwelcome. Musky, meaty–the wine definitely reminded me of the Japanese concept of umami (read this interesting article on umami here that I had linked to a few posts back)… salty, sweet, savory. Mostly savory. Something meat-like. Gamy, even.

[ UPDATE from 2/29: Late last night I hit upon the EXACT taste the wine reminded me of–umeboshi, or Japanese pickled ume (sort of a cross between a plum and apricot). Specifically, the taste was that of purple perilla, a plant related to mint, which is used to make ume and can be found, in pickled form, along with umeboshi. ]

Then, I started dinner. I don’t care how self-reliant, fierce, and proud the Basques are, but their wine was no match for my native cuisine.

Today, I had leftover “gourmet” pizza from Heirloom for dinner. This pizza had some strong mozzarella, strong tomato, strong sauce, and strong oregano and thyme. Perfect for the wine. I poured myself a liberal glass, had a bite of pizza, washed it down with wine–ah. A wonderful match! The herb profile of the wine was a superb complement to that of the pizza. The pizza brought out a latent acidity I had not previously noticed on the first tasting. Very, very good.

I’ve been wondering about which wine, if any, matches with Korean food. I love off-dry riesling with Thai or some Chinese, but Korean food is not especially known for being sweet. I love dry riesling or a nice bubbly with Japanese–sushi or sashimi–but the thought of champagne with bean paste soup makes me want to throw up. Traditionally, Koreans have had soju or beer with their meals, but could we possibly reconcile wine with kimchi?

The only one pairing I know goes well is zinfandel with kalbi jim (err… braised shortribs). The shortribs are braised in a sweet broth, complete with mushrooms, carrots, potato, and radish. It’s a hearty, filling dish, and one that goes very well with the slight sweetness and acidity of zin.

Any thoughts, my Korean brethren?


2 Responses to “Irouléguy: or, How Poorly Korean Food Matches with ANY Wine”

  1. Shea February 29, 2008 at 12:02 pm #

    I think pairing wine with a lot of asian food can be tough. I just spent a few weeks in Vietnam visiting my partner’s family and it was difficult to match anything with the local food (which was awesome in its own right!). It’s weird that the French colonization brought all this french cuisine influence and wine and yet absolutely no fusion cuisine that matches well with french wine :).

    I know Korean is pretty different from Vietnamese, but there is a fusion-y vietnamese place in San Francisco called Slanted Door that matches their food with Austrian Gruners and German Rieslings. I went there and thought it was a good combination. But, again, I doubt they would match with ‘authentic’ Vietnamese food.

    Oh, and btw that Irouleguy sounds awesome – I’ll have to find some somewhere.

  2. chasingafterwindmills August 15, 2008 at 1:08 am #

    I’m doing a bit of research on pairing wines and Korean food. Vinho Verde, a Portugese wine came up on a google search. Zins and Australian Shirazs were also recommended.

    Beers were far more recommended. NPR recommends a pale book with KBBQ. Lagunitas Czech style Pilsner and an assortment of Belgian beers were also mentioned.

    As far as the Slanted Door goes, they were one of the first places I’d seen that featured Chinons in abundance. That and the Vinho Verde makes me think to look at other European reds from either Greece, Hungary, Lebanon, Alsace, and Austria. The key is low alcohol (which can be at ends with Zin) and present acid.

    Too bad the Irouleguy didn’t work out, I saw it pop up adm was hoping.

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