Not sure if this big Italian red wine grown in California will jive with a spicy-savory lamb dish. But the wine is 10 years old, so those touchy tannins just might have softened enough to pair with this dish.
I hate pairing red wine with Asian food. Sometimes it goes well, often times it doesn’t, and I always have to hold my breath, hope and pray that it will work.
Despite the constant state of wonder and despair, it’s a pairing I continue to try over and over again with various Asian dishes and red wines.
When the opportunity arose to try a spicy cumin lamb dish from the Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant in San Francisco (via DoorDash), I thought I would take my chances and try it.
Cumin Lamb is a Muslim Chinese dish, hence the addition of cumin spice to season the meat when cumin is not usually used in other Chinese recipes.
The version from Old Mandarin Islamic Restaurant in San Francisco, CA is especially savory. Tender slices of lamb are marinated and stir fried with vegetables, soy sauce, chili, cumin, garlic, ginger, and rice wine. The dish touches all the tastebuds in one bite, with saltiness being the most pronounced quality.
Served with a scallion pancake instead of rice.
2011 Harrington Wines Nebbiolo
100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV; $25
Harrington Wines is a now defunct San Francisco winery. Like many native Californians, they decided to pack up and settle elsewhere. Bryan Harrington focused on exploring unusual grape varietals in the California terroir.
Visual: magenta, brick, pressed strawberry jam. A little cloudiness characteristic of aged red wine. Pours with a lightness and nimbleness.
Aroma: blackberry, must, earth, tar, cinnamon toast. After it had aired out for an hour, a beautiful nose emerged of wild berries and bramble.
Taste: Still very bright, a slight tannic tickle on the tongue, cherry juice. Tastes much better at cellar temp than room temp. Lots of acidity, jammy, warm, and tingly. The tannins still hold a grip.
Pairing: The lamb brings out a little more candy, gummy bear, sweetness from the wine. It wasn’t bad and didn’t clash like I might have expected a red wine to clash with the spiciness. However, it wasn’t spectacular either. it more just coexisted together respectfully.
I later tried some leftover cheese & asiago crispy crackers with the Nebbiolo which knocked it out of the park. The heavy cheesiness just smoothed over the tannins and acids and brought out the fruit and sweetness from the wine.
A big red wine needs time to loosen the tannic grip that can clash with spicy foods. Whether you do or don’t have time, cheesy crackers are usually a safe back up option.