Wine Time

Odd Pair: Zucchini Blossoms and Austrian Riesling

Today, we typically associate zucchini and zucchini blossoms with Italy and Southern France. I've just returned from Italy, where summer months find fiori di zucca (literally, squash flowers) at the height of their glory. We often forget that zucchini and zucchini blossoms, despite their Italian name, originated here in the New World. In fact, all squash came from the Americas and did not become popular in Southern Europe until the mid-to-late nineteenth century.

This knowledge made a pairing of delicious stuffed zucchini blossoms at Hugo's (above) with dry Austrian Riesling all the more "odd" when Italian Wine Guy and I took a seat at the bar last night. After all, it occurred to me, we were pairing an Old World recipe for a New World fruit (yes, zucchini, or more properly le zucchine, are a fruit, not a vegetable) with a decidedly Old World wine.

Houston sommelier Sean Beck is well known for his top-notch, seasonal list at Backstreet Cafè, but in my view, it is in his carta de vinos at Hugo's -- and in particular, his short-list of Rieslings, German and Austrian -- where his talents and his palate shine most brightly.

At a wonderfully affordable $9 a glass, the Leth 2009 Riesling Reserve Felser Weinberge (above) was stunning with the zucchini blossoms. Here, zinging acidity trumps the residual sugar you find in Mosel (Germany) Rieslings (like the one we posted about on Tuesday this week). This wine is bone-dry, crisp and refreshing, and ideal for the more intense and spicy flavors that abound on Hugo's excellent menu. But with a restrained 12.5 percent alcohol (however higher than the typical alcohol content you find in sweeter, German Rieslings), I didn't hesitate to order a second glass to quench my thirst after scarfing down those zucchini blossoms. The wine also paired gorgeously with one of my favorites at Hugo's, the pulpo al carbón (grilled octopus).

As one commenter noted here recently at Eating Our Words -- Roy from the Barbed Rose -- Riesling can be a "sommelier's best friend."

Well, I'm here to tell you, people: last night, I enjoyed this Riesling's company so much that I'm giving it a call the morning after...

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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