March 1 2017 01:03 PM

Exploring wine pairings for Lent

If you're taking a break from red meat for Lent, Matthiasson’s 2016 rosé is a great pairing for salmon dinners.
Justin King/City Pulse
Let’s get this out of the way first: You don’t need to apologize for the six-pack of paczki you slammed earlier this week. They’re delicious, and anyone who disagrees is probably a fascist.

Paczki — pronounced “poonch-kee”— exist because Polish Catholics needed to use up all the eggs, lard and sugar in the house before Lent began. This traditionally takes place on Fat Tuesday, as you probably know. But unlike the Mardi Gras Parade in New Orleans, the only beads you’ll get from paczki are the beads of sweat on your forehead after crushing three in an hour.

Lent’s observance starts this week, and many observers will abstain from red meat on Ash Wednesday and all Fridays through April 14. Ergo, fish consumption is up during Lent. McDonald’s debuted the Filet-O- Fish in time for Lent in 1962, and sales were brisk and impressive.

So what does all this have to do with wine? The good news here is that there’s not a word written about abstaining from wine for Lent. So lets line up some tasty bottles for our periodic pescatarians.

If you dig salmon, one of the biggest home runs is pairing it with a good rosé. A current favorite is the 2016 Matthiasson rosé, made from grenache, syrah, mourvedre and counoise grapes. Steve Matthiasson is one of the most critically acclaimed California winemakers of the last decade. His rosé is a lower-alcohol wine — under 12 percent — but fleshy flavors of watermelon, blood orange and ruby red grapefruit abound. At $25, this is a touch pricier than many rosés.

If you want to go for value, look for 2015 rosés from southern France. The 2015 harvest was exceptional, with bountiful fruit and top-notch weather. Many wine distributors will be looking to push out the ‘15s at a lower price to make room for the ‘16s coming in. Also, rosés with a year or so on them can be in that perfect drinking window. You can catch them before they fall apart but far after that fresh-from-the-tank taste, which sometimes feels synthetic.

For trout, I dig on riesling — specifically riesling from Alsace, France. The wine regions of Germany make up the lion’s share of riesling plantings in the world, but this aromatic, hardy grape has found success in places like Alsace, Austria, Washington State, Australia and of course, Michigan.

Alsatian rieslings differ in one key way from most of the Germans we see in the Michigan market: They’re usually dry. Some houses buck tradition and choose to ferment less of the sugar from the grapes, therefore leaving the wines slightly sweeter and lower in alcohol. Trimbach Estate is not one of those houses. Whatever vintage is available at your trusted wine store, buy it. It should be about $20, and its tart lemon, ever-so-slightly tropical style might make it the best value dry riesling in the world.

Plenty of Lent observers are game for a good fish fry. This, my friends, calls for sparkling wine. Bubbles + fried food = game changer.

Want to really maximize your good eats? Grab a bottle of J.P. Chenet’s Blanc de Blancs Brut. It lands in your shopping cart for around $12, and its versatility will make your friends, family and guests happy they’re drinking with you. This wine depends on two workhorse grapes that espouse no glamour on your average wine label: airen and ugni blanc.

Airen used to be the most planted grape in the world until a few years ago, when cabernet sauvignon kicked it off the top of the pile. Airen is native to Spain, and almost all of it is grown there, where the brandy industry depends on its resistance to drought. Ugni blanc is the main grape that is distilled for Cognac production, but is originally from Italy, where it is known as trebbiano toscano.

These two grapes are widely embraced for, well, their nothingness. Probably 90 percent of the wines I’ve had from these two grapes are just plain boring. The surprise here is that J.P. Chenet has maximized their strengths: tart, crisp apple/peach profile and brightness in youth. If the price on this wine stays down, it’s a real steal.

Do you need a catchall wine for all things seafood? Camina’s verdejo can be your hero, baby. (Move over, Enrique Iglesias.) A worthwhile value at around $15, this wine offers aromas and flavors of peach pit, candied lemon bar, orange pith and chalky minerality.

Many of the best verdejos tend to come from Spain’s Rueda region, which lies northwest of Madrid. Camina’s playful wine, however, is from Spain’s southeast, in La Mancha. But the story is still the same in many ways. Central Spain was new territory for winemakers interested in vinicultural technology, mostly because of the price tag. It took a few major players like Marques de Riscal to light the path. Camina came a little later, born of a cooperative of grape farmers. And our taste buds are better off for it.

Justin King is a certified sommelier and owner of Bridge Street Social, a wine and cocktails-focused restaurant in DeWitt. Want help finding these wines? Email him at justingking@gmail.com.

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