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A Surprise Pairing With Italian Cuisine

A big and rich, yet sultry and delicious Cab PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

A big and rich, yet sultry and delicious Cab PHOTO FROM ROBERTO VIERNES

This week I find myself torn between writing about a crazy food and wine pairing that I thought would totally be horrible, and a lovely Mother’s Day experience with wine. Both were somewhat unexpected and both involved Italian food. So I guess I am going to write about both.

Belated happy Mother’s Day to all of you moms who read this column. I celebrated Mother’s Day this year with my wife and my mother-in-law at Taormina Sicilian Cuisine. I brought a bottle of non-vintage Henriot Blanc de Blanc Champagne ($69) to share as a special treat for our guests, kind of as a starter, and was planning to order an Italian red from the wine list to go with our meal.

When the bottle was opened, I quickly realized that I was the only one who was going to be drinking this beautiful Champagne. Being 100 percent Chardonnay, it was nutty with notes of brioche, poached pears, fresh red apples, cookie dough, marzipan and citrus. It was dry but round.

I ordered a platter of Antipasti Misti, consisting of four different items: caponata salad, marinated baby octopus, salmon (sashimi style) and burrata cheese. I figured the Champagne wouldn’t hurt, but it turned out to be a smashing pair, even with such an array of flavors.

The eggplant, tomato and vinegar combination of the caponata worked well with the bright acidity and freshness of the Henriot Blanc de Blanc. Both the octopus and salmon were simply heavenly with it. The citrus component served itself like a squeeze of lemon, and again the vibrant acidity welcomed the texture of the seafood.

I can remember the fattiness of the salmon melting on my tongue, only to be swept away by the zestiness of the Champagne. And the creaminess of the burrata was perfectly cut by the Champagne’s laser focus and length, as well, leaving a nutty and creamy finish on my palate. So I was pretty stoked with the selections.

Then my main came in the form of a Fruiti di Mare pasta with clams, octopus, scallops and shrimp in a white wine sauce. This is not a dish I normally would recommend with Champagne, but I could definitely do a light-bodied, unoaked and zesty Chardonnay, which is exactly what this Blanc de Blanc Champagne is, but with a luxurious effervescence! Boy, was I as happy as clam (pardon the pun) as I chowed down on the pasta, picked out the clams and washed it all down with another glass of the Champagne.

And lastly, for dessert, I had a salted caramel gelato. I can’t say the Champagne was the perfect match, but again, it played well.

You already know that I am a Champagne fanatic, but this meal proved again to me that Champagne is not just for the beginning of a meal or cocktails.

Earlier in the week I had the pleasure of a meal at Arancino at the Kahala Hotel and Spa.

This lunch was hosted by the Wagner Family of Wine, known for fabulous wines such as Conundrum, Belle Glos Pinot Noir, Mer Soleil Reserve Chardonnays, Emmolo Merlot and Caymus Cabernet Sauvignon, just to name a few.

I was expecting all of the not so subtle, in-your-face gargantuan fruit for which these terrific wines are known. What I was not expecting was how well they actually went with the pasta dish, especially the Casarecce Ragu di Polpo, which is octopus, casarecce pasta (which looks like small, rolled-up notes) and spicy garlic tomato sauce.

Now wait, this kind of dish with flavors of the sea, heat spice and tomato is not supposed to go well with Cabernet Sauvignon. But it did! I was shocked. I thought they would fight each other like Tyson and Spinks, but they didn’t even put on gloves. Somehow, the fruitiness of the wine helped to mitigate the spiciness, as well as marry the tomato sauce.

On top of all that, the wine was the recently released 2012 Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon ($150). It was big and rich yet sultry and delicious. Despite its girth, the structure is not dense, and it has a truly long and bright finish. You never know how it will taste with the food until you try it.

Roberto Viernes is a master sommelier.