By Suphada Rom
One of my most profound food and wine memories takes me back to Italy, specifically the Ligurian coast. The allure of the crooked seaside streets with squeaking restaurant signs, beckoning you with wafts of dinners yet-to-come. Ducking my head (literally, I had to duck since the arched doorway was about five feet high, at best) into a small restaurant revealed half a dozen tables nestled into every nook and cranny. After quickly scanning the menu, I greedily ordered an appetizer of vongole al vino bianco (clams in white wine) and an entrée of trofie al pesto (a hand-made rolled pasta with a rich pesto sauce). I decided to complete the local trifecta with a cheap half bottle of a local white wine.
These were my pre-wine-geek days, where I was more focused on the food than the wine. And yeah, my wine vocabulary may have been no more than white or acidic, but I knew that what I'd ordered was delicious, and a perfect accompaniment to the dishes I ordered. Fast-forward six years later, and here I am working with all the gorgeous wines at Tablas Creek, including the Italian variety I had ordered that night, Vermentino. I may not have known what the grape was, or what its characteristics were, or anything about it, but I loved it then, as I do now.
So, to pair with our recently released 2015 Vermentino, I chose two courses of nostalgia. The recipes I used were fairly simple and straight-forward, as I think some of the best are. I chose to use the recipe from Food52 for pesto alla Genovese. The clams recipe comes from Saveur for their Garlic-Steamed Manila Clams. I had to make a minor modification, as trofie is not a pasta you find at your local supermarket or even your artisanal Italian food shop. The origin of trofie isn’t entirely known, although it could be traced back to the the verb "strofinare", which essentially means to rub, which in turn could refer to the fact that this pasta is made by hand. Wherever its name is derived from, it finds its roots in Liguria and is commonly seen generously coated by fresh basil pesto. I found that using strozzapreti was a good substitute because its elongated structure and and curled crevices would store just enough pesto for every bite. The curled strips resemble a priest's collar (strozzapreti literally means "priest strangler", although there are alternate origin stories). Here are the results from the dual pairing:
My first bite consisted of a shell-full of clam, followed by a hunk of bread that had been soaking in the herbed broth. The clams were cooked wonderfully, but the broth is what truly made the dish. Before you even cook the clams, you saute shallots and garlic, whose deep, sweet flavor resonates through the broth. Using the white wine, you deglaze the pan, releasing all the little flavorful bits. Adding in fresh herbs at the end gives the broth not only fresh and vibrant flavor, but color too! I could seriously eat a vat of this broth with baguette. I did manage to disengage from the appetizer long enough to dig into the entree. The pesto was mild in flavor and complex in texture. When you're tossing in the pesto in with the warm pasta, the cheese can adhere to each individual pasta, leaving behind the pesto. I added a splash of pasta water to thin out the pesto slightly, garnering a more even coating.
In between bites of clam and pasta, I managed to take a sip or two of our 2015 Vermentino. I know what you might be thinking- why is Tablas Creek, who is so focused on French (specifically Rhone) varieties producing Vermentino? The answer is at the very heart of Tablas Creek's existence- our importation of vine material from France. When we starting the vineyard, we wanted to import specific clones from France that would produce quality grapes in the limestone rich soils of Paso Robles. Based on the recommendation of the Perrins' French nurseryman, we began with a handful of varieties from the Rhone and a couple outliers, including Vermentino. Vermentino, also known as Rolle, is easy to grow in the vineyard and even easier on the palate. It exudes aromas of lemon and lime- I happened to find a little piece of my childhood in a whiff of cream soda. There is this expression of fresh citrus, with a rich mouthfeel that coats your palate long enough for the acidity to kick in, lending a generous "pick me up" on the finish. In terms of pairing, I like seafood with this wine a whole lot, especially when there's white wine involved in the sauce. There's a certain briny character in Vermentino that suggests the ocean, and the finish of pithy grapefruit provides a foil for the rich flavors of roasted garlic and shallot. And matching up pesto with this wine is a slam dunk. It's a regional pairing that, for so many reasons, is perfect in itself and needs little explanation except for Try It.
Looking back, I see that, even though I didn't realize it then, I was destined for the path I've been paving for myself. This road entangled with food and wine was one I was sure to not only continue down, but make a career out of.
If you recreate this dish (or create a TCV wine and food pairing of your own!), be sure to let us know on any of our social media handles - Facebook or Twitter or Instagram - or just leave us a comment here! When you do, tag @tablascreek and use #EatDrinkTablas
A few other resources:
- Recipe for Steamed Manilla Clams can be found here, via Saveur.
- Recipe for Pesto alla Genovese can be found here, via Food52.
- You can purchase the 2015 Vermentino by clicking here or by visiting us in the tasting room
- Although this wine was included in the Spring "Whites Only" Shipment, wine club members can re-order this wine at their 20% discount! Not a member yet? Learn more about the VINsider club here.