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Pairing Wine with Casseroles ... This is Work?!?

I like wine. 

There. Post done. Carry on.

OK, seriously. What's more relaxing after a long day than enjoying a great meal with a glass of perfectly paired vino -- especially a meal somebody else made?!?

So I've been wanting to offer wine recommendations with each of Cream City Casseroles' entrees. Problem is, I'm no wine expert. In fact, I often feel intimidated in the liquor department. Too many choices! I've been limping along with two tips I heard years ago:

1) Pair white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat.
2) When in doubt, pick a label you like. 

These tips have gotten me only so far. I knew I needed help making recommendations for other people.

Luckily, I knew who to call ... my friends, Dawn and Keri. While they aren't formally trained sommeliers, they're quite knowledgeable and passionate about wine. 

Dawn and Keri own Latitude Travel Group and are rock stars when it comes to travel and leisure. They specialize in meeting and event planning, as well as incentive and group travel. They can (and have) incorporate wine into any event or travel experience, and should be your first call if you're looking to plan a truly memorable getaway. 

Their extensive travels have taken them to the far corners of the world where they've dined on exotic cuisines and savored local wines. They've also been to some amazing vineyards where they've sampled all kinds of wines and the finest champagne. (And I mean the real champagne. Dawn has traveled all over the Champagne region in France!) 

As an added bonus, Dawn and Keri are super fun. They're down to earth, approachable and hilarious. Despite their undeniable expertise in high-end travel and leisure, they're unpretentious wine enthusiasts, so I wasn't shy about enlisting their help. 

Matching one or more wines with each of my seven casseroles is going to take some time, so I figured we'd better keep it simple and start with my most popular dish. 

The Casserole: Hubby's Creamy Chicken and Biscuits

Hubby's Creamy Chicken and Biscuits: Tender-crisp veggies and huge chunks of chicken in a savory, made-from-scratch cream sauce that's seasoned with sage, cracked black pepper and fresh thyme. Light, flaky and buttery hand-rolled biscuits top it off. (YUM!)

The Pairing: 8 Wines

The gals showed up with a whole arsenal of wines. From bottles to boxes, corks to screw caps, they had it covered and all conveniently priced under $15. Dawn has had Hubby's before and selected wines she felt would complement the meal.

** It's important to note that this was a wine pairing ... not just a tasting. Each of the wines we tried were superb in their own right. Our mission was to find the one that worked best with the meal.

Eight wines. One casserole. My youngest supervised the operation, sipping from her juice box. Mostly, she ate grapes.

I had been pairing Hubby's with an inexpensive light chardonnay, which I thought worked well, but I was curious what the experts would think. I was surprised to see they brought more than just white wines. They brought a few carefully selected reds and even a rosé, assuring me that it's OK to break "rule" #1 (white with white, red with red). 

For the next several hours, we sipped, swirled and sampled in hopes of finding the best wine for Hubby's.

The Whites:

We started with the whites. First up, this crisp sauvignon blanc. It was a truly great wine and seemed to pair well with the meal. It was hard to stop at a few sips.

Hello! Where have you been my whole life?

Next, we tried the boxed chardonnay. It was a tasty wine, but a little too oaky for the casserole. We felt this would be a good wine to take to a barbecue.


Don't knock boxed wines. Dawn and Keri insist there are some really good brands and varieties out there.

Next up, my $8 go-to chardonnay. 

I was nervous about my contribution to the pairing, but was pleased when Dawn and Keri said they liked it. It was brighter and crisper than the boxed chard and complemented the casserole pretty well.


PHEW! I didn't embarrass myself with my selection! 

The Rosé:

Next up, a rosé. The gals are fans of rosé wines and everyone had high expectations for this one. Unfortunately, it just wasn't the right rosé for the dish. I guess we'll have to keep looking. (Sigh.)

This was tasty, but not quite right with the savory cream sauce. 
The Reds:

Next, we tried the red boxed wine. It came out of the plastic spigot with the force of a fire hose, which I found hilarious. It was just so-so. We quickly dumped and rinsed our glasses for the next contender. 

The red box was OK, but a no-go with Hubby's.
Next up: Malbec. Now, I was skeptical of pairing a red wine with chicken, but was pleasantly surprised with the Malbec. It nicely complemented the savory cream sauce and buttery biscuits. Dawn said it had a nice "mouthfeel," which sent me into hysterics. And still does.


I was really impressed by this $10 Malbec and it's nice 'mouthfeel.' (Tee hee!)  
Next came the Chianti, an Italian wine said to pair well with a wide variety of foods. It was good, but didn't taste quite right with the meal. 

Perhaps it'd go better with fresh liver and fava beans.
(Thank you, Hannibal Lecter. You've forever ruined Chiantis for me.)
Then came the Tempranillo, a variety of wine I'd never even heard of. Described as 'brooding and complex' (like me some days), this Spanish wine was really good with the chicken casserole. (Surprising me again because it was red.)

Meet my new friend, Tempranillo.
And our last contender ... a red blend. This pinot noir syrah was tasty and had a fun label, but didn't pair well with the casserole. 

C'est la vie, mon amore.


Recommendations:

I'm pleased to report we came away with a few clear recommendations to pair with Hubby's Creamy Chicken and Biscuits. 

White: 
1st place: Matetic EQ Coastal Sauvignon Blanc - Chile ($13)
2nd place: Barefoot Chardonnay - California ($8)

Red: 
1st place: Circus Gascon Malbec - Argentina ($10)
2nd place: Abanico Sinfornia Tempranillo - Spain ($14)

Rosé:
TBD. We all agreed that there's a rosé out there too for this tasty dish. Rest assured we'll keep searching for it.

Conclusions:

By the end of the night, my head was swimming with phrases like "full-bodied," "fruit-forward," and "mouthfeel" (tee hee!). I also felt warm and fuzzy, which explains why my handwritten notes are so hard to read. 

In the end, Dawn and Keri assured me that when it comes to wine, it all boils down to personal preference. They encouraged me to try new wines from various regions to develop a taste for what I like. 

We had a blast and plan to hold additional wine pairings for other Cream City Casseroles entrees. Rumor has it we may try and live-tweet it. 

Also ...

I found an app that I really like to keep track of the wines I've tasted and to find new ones. It's called Vivinohttp://www.vivino.com/app, and is available in Google Play and the Apple Store. 


You can snap a picture of a wine label to rate it and read descriptions and reviews. Plus, you can connect with your friends to see what they're sampling too. (If you use the app, let's connect!)

Acknowledgements:

Latitude Travel Group - Thank you, Keri and Dawn, for sharing your expertise with me and helping me overcome my fear of feeling dumb about wine. You rock! 
http://www.latitudetravelgroup.com/

Ray's Wine and Spirits - Dawn's go-to shop for wine. Great selection, great prices. Cute-as-a-button wine caddies! http://rayswine.com/ 

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