Odd Pair: King Ranch Chicken and an "Oxidative" Wine from Jura
University of Texas alum and a Solomon among wine writers, my friend Eric Asimov likes to tease me about some of my favorite pairings with Texan cuisine, like "oxidative" wines from Jura, France, with my mother-in-law's Chex Mix. (An oxidative wine is a wine that was made by purposely exposing the wine to oxygen during aging, muting some of the floral aromas and celebrating its more savory notes; check out this recent post on "oxidized" vs. "oxidative" by Wine Doctor.)
When Tracie P (my wife) made King Ranch Chicken (above) the other night for dinner (I know that all y'all know what King Ranch Chicken is, the supreme casserole of Texan cookery -- layered tortillas, chiles, cheese, and chicken, one of the greatest discoveries in my vida tejana), I reached for one of my favorites: Domaine de Montbourgeau Savagnin from Jura, where the extreme cold of winter is embraced by winemakers who traditionally favor an oxidative style. (You can find it in the Houston market for less than $30.)
As with my mother-in-law's spicy Chex Mix, I knew the heat of the casserole would overwhelm the floral and fruit notes in a brighter wine like a Chardonnay from Mâconnais or a Pinot Gris from Oregon. I wanted a more savory wine with earthier flavors -- think burnt orange zest and rocks -- as a complement to the richness of the cheese and the intense flavors of the chiles.
Like its not-so-distant relative Sauvignon Blanc, Savagnin is an intensely aromatic grape. In my view, it's the ideal variety for a wine like this (although they also grow Chardonnay in Jura). The oxidative style -- not unique to but famously associated with Jura, where one of the world's most illustrious oxidative wines, vin jaune, is made -- draws out its dried citrus zest and straw notes. And it has the bright acidity that I want whenever I sit down at the dinner table.
This wine -- Tracie P and I agreed -- paired stunningly well with this new-found favorite dish of mine. Its saltiness interacted with the fat of the cheese the way a dry rub softens a marbled brisket.
Eric, I'll save a heaping helping of King Ranch Chicken and a cold Pearl Lager for you when you come to visit us.
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