April Means Warm Weather Wines
Trends obviously influence the American palate. A movie proclaims all domestic Pinot Noir the superior red wine, and by golly, almost on cue it is ordered at restaurants coast to coast. Years ago, few enthusiasts seemed to express a preference for any red wine, Pinot Noir or otherwise, often gratuitously stating that white wines avoided headaches, allergies and the like. Lately, it seems we have a growing “red wine only” culture. While I subscribe to the axiom of live and let live, a/k/a mind your own business, I do weep at the blind forfeiture of the unenjoyed pleasure that so many white wines offer.
Mercifully, most of America is thawing out. In my bailiwick, high heat and numbing humidity are around the corner: you either get tough or die. Fruits from the oceans and rivers appear more often as restaurant specials and home entertaining will gravitate more towards grilled food and outdoor dining. Now is a good time to begin enjoying some of the great white wines, a centuries-old practice rooted in tradition instead of marketing.
Sandy Block, a Master of Wine and one of only a dozen Americans to hold this prestigious title, writes and lectures widely in the United States and abroad, teaching advanced wine studies at Boston University and wine tasting courses at the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts. Sandy is a devotee of the white wines of France’s Loire Valley particularly in warm weather and for pairing with seafood. “I really hope that we discover Loire Valley Chenin Blanc,” Block told me, adding that another Loire treasure, Muscadet, “begs for oysters and clams.” He also recommendsAlbarino, a great white wine from Spain and volunteers that “Riesling is breaking out as people lose their fear of being seen drinking something sweet and as the world discovers that not all Rieslings are.”
Washington State and the Finger Lakes region of New York produce wonderful dry Riesling available nationally and quite affordable.
What Block and Sarasota, Florida’s acclaimed chef Derek Barnes advocate is the informal art that joins local food with wines that almost assure an enjoyable experience. Derek’s Culinary Casual, Barnes’ acclaimed Florida restaurant maintains a seasonally updated wine list that mirrors the tropical climate. Now through August menu items will get lighter and heavier, full-bodied red wines would not be a first choice. Derek’s impressive wine list includes wines from the Loire Valley and other heralded white wines that have a solid place in the gourmet experience.
White wines pair with a wide array of food from fried shrimp, oysters, snapper and catfish to the great Southern staple, Hushpuppies, a cornmeal-based delight that served with a chilled glass of Sancerre can be a mighty satisfying precursor of the great spring feast.
Some favorite scenes in Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof include Maggie the Cat (brilliantly played by the incredibly beautiful Elizabeth Taylor), having Big Daddy’s fine Champagne at her disposal as an antidote to the searing heat of the Deep South. Yes, climate influences what we and drink. Trends aside, most popular white wines are delicious. When the temperature rises, they cool us down. And with the seafood, fresh vegetable and chicken from the stove or grill, they fit like Liz Taylor’s lovely hands in silk lined kidskin gloves.
Learn about the history of Hushpuppies.
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s Cross Creek Cookery, published in 1942, calls hushpuppies “a concomitant of the hunt,” and says “fresh-caught fried fish without hushpuppies are as a man without a woman.”
Nathalie Dupree, the founder of the New Southern Cooking movement, is more than my friend; she is the critical link between the miracles of the Old South traditional kitchen and the modern era of advanced but highly relevant Southern cuisine. A television-cooking pioneer who was a friend of Julia Child, here’s Nathalie’s Hush Puppies recipe:
In a large bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, salt, and onion. In a small bowl, whisk together the egg, milk, and Tabasco; stir into the cornmeal mixture until the batter is smooth and free of any lumps.
In a cast-iron skillet or a large heavy fry pan over medium-high heat, heat 2 to 3 inches of vegetable oil to 365 degrees F. or until a small amount of batter dropped into the hot oil sizzles and floats.
Drop the batter into the hot oil by tablespoons. After about 10 seconds, hushpuppies will float to the top and begin to brown. Fry for approximately 3 to 4 minutes or until golden brown, turning to brown all sides. Remove from oil and place hushpuppies on paper towels.
Continue cooking the remaining batter (fry in small batches, adding 4 to 6 hushpuppies to the oil at a time).
Doc Lawrence is a veteran food and wine journalist based in Atlanta and Fort Lauderdale. Doc Lawrence writes and lectures regularly about subjects in which he is a recognized and acknowledged expert – wine and food, theater, travel and cultural tourism, visual art and music.