The arrival of pecan season in lower Alabama may not be an occasion that’s made you wonder what to drink – despite pecan festivals, Pecan Queens and restaurant menus featuring numerous pecan-laden dishes. It’s not Mardi Gras, after all. But those menu items do raise a legitimate question: What pairs with the crunchy, dense, roasted nuttiness of locally grown pecans?
Part of the answer depends, of course, on what you make with pecans – and pie is merely the tip of the culinary iceberg.
Savory pecans (i.e., plain roasted, roasted and salted, or roasted and spiced in just about any way that doesn’t involve sugar) work as appetizers, in salads or as a crunchy crust for baked chicken or fish. I just ate a fabulous dinner at Kitchen on George, in fact, that highlighted some of pecans’ culinary flexibility … but I don’t write about food, so I’m going to tell you about two wines that melded perfectly with those pecans, along with some wine and beer pecan-pairing ideas of my own.
Pecans, like most nuts, are naturally fatty. That’s why you can toast them in a skillet without adding oil (although I’ll never argue with a dab of butter). Anyway, for wine pairing we fall back on our rule: acid goes with fat.
To implement this rule, I like Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc, served at the aforementioned Kitchen on George dinner. Sincerely is one of several lines produced by Neil Ellis Wines from vineyards they hold in South Africa. It’s a delicious, easy-drinking Sauvignon Blanc, not as sharp or brittle as its New Zealand or California counterparts (I might’ve mistaken it for an un-oaked Chardonnay if I hadn’t known better). But while it’s rounder and smoother than many Sauvignon Blancs, it’s light and very fresh with subtle acidity.
Sincerely pours quite pale, but pungent white-flower aromas rise above the glass to greet your nose, followed by a range of ripe fruit flavors in the sip (lemon curd, ripe pineapple and mango). This is not a passion-fruit bomb (although passion-fruit bombs have their place, on hot summer evenings especially). Kitchen on George paired it with a green salad featuring Roquefort, pear slices and pecans and topped with a Dijon-based vinaigrette and the wine not only accentuated the pecans, it played nice with the vinaigrette, too.
Sincerely Sauvignon Blanc, 2014; 13.5 percent ABV; 3g/litre residual sugar; $12-$15 at retailers served by International Wines and Craft Beer, Birmingham.
If you prefer red wine, though, I’ve got two ideas for you. First, Clayhouse Cabernet Sauvignon from Clayhouse Wines – a fourth-generation family winery in Paso Robles, California. This Cabernet will surprise you, particularly if you’re used to Napa Cabs, because it’s noticeably softer and less tannic than its cousins to the north. Paso Robles is known primarily for producing purple-y, fruity, easy-drinking Zinfandels whose influence is apparent in Clayhouse. It’s a fruit-forward wine with flavors of Bing cherry, plum and cinnamon, meant to be drank fairly young.
You could easily down a glass of Clayhouse Cabernet on its own, but Kitchen on George paired it with a pecan-crusted salmon filet (with dollop of mustard to help the pecans stick) and I was truly impressed. It was obvious to me that, although the wine would’ve gone fine with salmon alone, the chef had put thought into his pecan-crust pairing, which really made this wine sing. It went equally well with pecan-crusted chicken breast, and you wouldn’t normally pair Cab with Chicken. Clayhouse 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Cedar Vineyard; 13.75 percent ABV; $12-$15, at retailers served by International Wines.
At the opposite end of the flavor spectrum, I also like Peregrine Wines’ 2009 Pinot Noir as a pecan match, and possibly as a wine to see you through your entire Thanksgiving dinner. If you’re expecting another Clayhouse, expect again. This wine zings along your palate with tart red-cherry flavors and acidity that takes no prisoners. I wouldn’t pour this as a stand-alone wine, but I’d definitely trot it out with turkey — as well as butternut squash soup, baked yam casserole (pecans on top, of course), green beans (there’s room in the bowl for shaved pecans) and quite probably leave it on the table for dessert. You bring the fat and this wine will clean it up.
Peregrine Wines has been bottling Pinot Noir in New Zealand since 1998 and is known for “wines with attitude,” but also for attention to detail. The 2009 Peregrine Pinot Noir, which was entirely hand-harvested, won multiple trophies for excellence and rates a 90 from Wine Advocate. It was aged for 10 months in oak, so you’ll find a mild tannic edge alongside the tart cherries. If it seems slightly astringent on first opening, decant and let it breathe for an hour. 13.5 percent ABV; less than 1g/litre residual sugar; $25-$35 depending — but a $23-bargain at Food Pak on Old Shell Road.
For sweet pecans, maybe your honey-roasted variety, you want to match like flavors with like, and here’s where beer comes in. You want a darker, richer beer to pair with pecans, and if there’s honey in the mix, so much the better. Our neighbor Fairhope Brewing Company has brought out their French Quarter Porter, each batch made with 27 pounds of locally sourced honey from Kittrell’s Daydream Apiary in Fairhope (Weeks Bay area). This is a low-alcohol (4.5 percent ABV) and low-bitterness (25 IBUs) beer, made with one aromatic hop variety (East Kent Golding). You may have to take your own pecans to the taproom, but Fairhope won’t mind (so long as you share). Back Forty Beer Company’s Truck Stop Honey Brown Ale should be a pleasing pecan-match, too, suitable for football viewing.
Lastly, pecans toasted with cinnamon call for New Belgium’s Trippel, an ale brewed with coriander. This is my go-to “after-dinner beer,” with its rich body, slightly sweet spice and low-level fizz. It’s a treat with spicy sweet pecans and, while I’d never say I’m not nuts, you can trust me on this one.