Thursday, January 22, 2009

Organic wine & food matching: Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir & Szechuan baby back ribs

Randy Caparoso is an award winning wine professional and journalist, living in Denver, Colorado. For a free subscription to Randy's Organic Wine Match of the Day, visit the Denver Wine Examiner. You can reach Randy anytime at

When Oregon’s “Papa Pinot,” the recently departed David Lett of Eyrie Vineyards, planted his first vineyard in 1965, he settled in the Dundee Hills just south, towards west, of Portland, where deep, red clay soils on bedrocks of basalt have yielded the type of gentle yet generous, red berryish, fruit driven red wines that have come epitomize Willamette Valley Pinot Noir.

During the past twenty-five years, a number of other little pockets of Willamette Valley have been successfully planted by winemakers, five of which have been identified as sufficiently unique to merit their own official AVA (American Viticultural Region) designation. Among those “other” regions: the McMinnville AVA, located a good twenty miles southwest of the Dundee Hills AVA; closer to the Pacific’s maritime influence, and tucked into coastal mountain hillsides where slightly dryer weather and brighter days are offset by cooler nights and significantly shallower soils than that of Dundee.

From this emerging AVA, McMinnville’s 2006 Maysara Jamsheed Pinot Noir (about $27) stands out as a slightly “different” style of Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: more aggressive, slightly steelier in acid, and more structured in terms of tannin and glycerol than the pretty, fruit driven Dundee Hills wines of old. Yet this is still a cold climate Oregonian, and so the Maysara shares the plump, juicy, wild berry traits of the finest Willamette Valley Pinot Noirs. The meager soils, however, also yield a more pronounced anise and clove-like spiciness in the nose; in the '06, becoming more pepperminty and green leafy/herbal on the palate, intertwined with muscular tannins and almost sweet, marionberry jam-like flavors.

While the Maysara’s intensity is a direct reflection of McMinnville’s terroir, another major factor is the low-impact winemaking and biodynamic viticulture practiced with great devotion by Maysara proprietor, Moe Momtazi (Moe's daughter, winemaker Tahmiene Momtazi, pictured right). It was, in fact, the attraction of staking out a somewhat remote, 532 acre, abandoned wheat farm, free from chemicals for at least seven years, that first attracted Momtazi to the Maysara site in 1997. Explaining why he opted for the holistic approach of biodynamics on the Maysara Web site, Momtazi says that “while organics share the biological agriculture background and methods, it stops short of the dynamic processes, or life force of the farm… biodynamics recognizes and responds to the life force of the living farm, considering the farm a living organism.” Hence, the increased sense of place you can’t help but taste in a Maysara.

Maybe it goes back to when I was a kid and loved to crash my O-gauge Lionel train through redwood Lincoln Log walls, but what I like to do with Pinot Noirs like the Maysara, with its collision of wild, zesty flavors, is match it with Asian or fusion styles of dishes with their own collisions of sensations; like the following reworking of Chef Roy Yamaguchi’s Szechuan style baby back ribs. Don’t sweat the hoisin and chili paste – the hot, vinegary, sweet spices actually accentuate the fruit and star anise-like spiciness of the Maysara, and there is plenty enough tannin in the wine to absorb the fattiness of the ribs and the char from the grill. Have fun…

4½ lbs. baby back ribs (3 slabs)
2 cups hoisin sauce
2 tbsp. minced garlic
3 tbsp. minced ginger
2 tbsp. Sriracha (Thai chili sauce; available in all Asian grocers)
½ cup honey

Cut rib slabs in half and place in a large pot of boiling water. Slow boil 90 minutes, or until tender (meat will shrink down from top of bone to at least half inch). Remove from water and let stand 10 minutes.

To make marinade, combine remaining ingredients and refrigerate.

Preheat oven to 450 degress. Brush ribs on both sides with marinade. Place on a rack on top of a cookie sheet in the oven. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, until shiny. Remove and cool. Cut into pieces and brush with more marinade. Grill on a hibachi or charcoal grill until hot. Serves six, and is particularly great with fresh, steaming white rice!

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