Odd Pair: Boudin Balls and Brunello

Steaming boudin balls, freshly fried by Aunt Pam (who lives just a few doors away), were met with gasps of delight when they magically appeared at our family's Easter gathering last week. I had been waiting for the main attraction -- the spiral-sliced baked ham and all the fixings -- to start pouring the 2006 Brunello di Montalcino by Tenuta Il Poggione.

But when Pam showed up with her golden brown creations, I couldn't think of a better grape than Sangiovese to pair with this Cajun classic. After all, when you dine in the home of the Bindocci family in Sant'Angelo in Colle (where they make this iconic Tuscan wine), mama Stefania's chestnut polenta is almost invariably followed by black pork liver sausage. Brunello and boudin balls, you ask? Sacred and profane? Hell, yeah!

In Montalcino, they use a clone of Sangiovese called Sangiovese Grosso (also called Brunello) that delivers a generous amount of tannin while retaining the bright acidity and lip-smacking red fruit flavors (think plum) that makes Sangiovese Italy's quintessential food-friendly red grape.

The rich tannin in this wine cut through the fattiness of the boudin balls like a Bowie knife, and the fruit on the nose and in the mouth danced with the Cajun seasoning and the crunchy-creamy mouthfeel like a southern belle in an Easter bonnet.

Too often, we tend to put wines like Brunello di Montalcino on a pedestal, believing that they can only be paired with so-called haute cuisine. But the great thing about Sangiovese is how food-friendly and versatile it is -- it can go with just about anything. Just ask the people who make it: They drink Sangiovese every day.

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