Wine Time

Odd Pair: What Wine Do You Serve with Your Baked Potato?

Baked potatoes at our house are much more than a meal. They are a religion.

We don't just do sour cream. We do sour cream-infused with freshly ground horseradish, a kiss of white wine, and kosher salt.

We don't do "bacon bits." We do crumbled, crispy, center-cut bacon that's been fried the day before and refrigerated to purge the excess grease and concentrate the flavor.

We don't do wimpy chives. We do roughly chopped scallion rounds.

But sometimes we go unorthodox chic, dressing our Russet Burbanks (the Solanum tuberosum, also known as the Idaho Russet or Netted Gem) simply with extra-virgin olive oil (in our case San Giuliano from Alghero, Sardinia, available at Central Market), coarse sea salt, freshly cracked pepper, and a light sprinkling of Hungarian paprika.

But the most important step in the liturgy of our baked potato ritual is that we scrub the skins to remove any remaining dirt, dry thoroughly, and then rub with extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt before baking at 450° for 50 minutes. This ensures that the skins will be crispy and savory when we dive in with our serrated steak knives.

When it comes to choosing a wine to match with the chorus of flavors -- ranging from fat and creamy to high-pitched spice -- we look to the basic tenets of wine pairing and we apply the following rule-of-thumb: Determine the primary flavors of the dish and then select wines with flavors that mirror or complement those flavors.

For the sake of illustration, consider a dish like dover sole fillets that have been lightly dredged in flour and then gently pan-fried in olive oil. A bright, fresh white wine with vibrant acidity and citrus flavors will work well with this dish the same way that freshly squeezed lemon juice will. So I might reach for a Moschofilero from Greece, for example.

In the case of the baked potato, the earthiness of the skin is the predominant, defining flavor and so I'm going to reach for earthy red wines with intense minerality.

And if you've ever had a baked potato with prime rib or a juicy steak, you know that the combination of the meat's jus and the tuber work well together. And so I'm going to look for wines with prominent umami (savory) flavors. I'll even go so far as to say I'm going to seek out wines with "meaty" and "bloody" flavors.

At our house, Nebbiolo from the Langhe Hills (like the Produttori del Barbaresco classic Barbaresco or the winery's entry-tier Langhe Nebbiolo) and Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley (think Chinon or Bourgeuil) are the number-one choices. But we could also go Carignan from Southern France or Spain or Grenache from the Southern Rhône Valley. For it to work with our baked potato, it has to taste like dirt and blood.

How do you dress your baked potato and what wine do you pair with it?

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Jeremy Parzen writes about wine and modern civilization for the Houston Press. A wine trade marketing consultant by day, he is also an adjunct professor at the University of Gastronomic Sciences in Piedmont, Italy. He spends his free time writing and recording music with his daughters and wife in Houston.
Contact: Jeremy Parzen