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Tips for pairing wine and food from local chefs 

click to enlarge At Annunciation, A.J. McAlear pairs wines with contemporary Creole dishes.
  • Photo by Cheryl Gerber

Chef Ian Schnoebelen and wife Laurie Casebonne own Iris in the French Quarter and Mariza in Bywater. He presides over the kitchens and she serves as general manager, wine buyer and sommelier for both restaurants.

  They decided to open Mariza on a return flight from a vacation in Italy. Casebonne recalls one of their most memorable meals was a whole fish they devoured in Venice that was paired with a refreshing white wine, "A Gavi, I think," Casebonne says. "It was such a delicious pairing. The dish provided the inspiration for the 'whole fish of the day' on Mariza's menu."

  Mariza opened in January in a stylish space in the National Rice Mill Lofts and features a wide selection of Italian-influenced dishes. Casebonne familiarized herself with Italian wines and tasted hundreds of them to create Mariza's 50-bottle list.

  Gambit asked Cassebonne and Annunciation's A.J. McAlear to share their recommendations for pairing wine with popular local dishes as well as dishes at their restaurants.

  Casebonne has many suggestions for pairing Italian wines with common Italian dishes. For something like eggplant parmigiana, she suggests a light Italian red with a touch of sweetness like an amarone or ripasso, or a dry rose from southwestern France such as Domaine de Nizas.

For hearty pasta dishes like lasagna, "Just about any Italian red would make a good companion: chianti, sangiovese, barbera, Barbaresco and montepulciano," Casebonne says.

  At Mariza, Schnoebelen prepares vegetarian lasagna with vegetables from a farmers market and roasted garlic Italian cream. For this version, Casebonne recommends a light Italian red such as Tenuta di Arceno Chianti Classico or a white wine such as Domine de la Croix Senaillet Chardonnay from Saint-Veran in Bourgogne.

  For another local favorite, veal scallopine, a light Italian red like Barbera d'Asti would make a good companion, she says. A dish with earthy flavors, like mushroom risotto calls for an earthy pinot noir, Casebonne says.

  With pizza, keep it simple with a medium-bodied red like a chianti, she says. For Mariza's salumi pizza, which features house-cured meats, she recommends "a nice, brusque, fruity lam-brusco — either chilled or at room temperature — such as our Rosenere Lambrusco from Emilia-Romagna."

  For chicken cacciatore lovers, Casebonne suggests an Italian sangiovese or montepulciano or a full-boded chardonnay.

  For a dish like lamb osso buco, Casebonne says, "I love merlot or zinfandel with lamb, or an Italian red would work perfectly, too."

  With Mariza's lamb belly dishes or lamb meatballs served with a poached duck egg, Casebonne points to Fratelli Revello Dolcetto d'Alba.

  For the braised lamb belly with polenta and tomato, she offers Livio Felluga Vertigo Merlot, a cabernet sauvignon blend from Italy's delle Venezie, available by the bottle or glass.

  Casebonne says several of Mariza's hearty dishes call for big reds. Short ribs rigatoni with wild mushrooms and olive mascarpone goes with Saggi's sangiovese, cabernet and syrah blend from Washington state's Columbia Valley.

  In revisiting her Italian experiences, Casebonne recalls a cheese plate that when paired with a nutty Recioto di Soave Classico was a complete knockout. Mariza offers daily cheese plates as well as daily house-cured charcuterie plates.

  "Our house-cured meats are constantly changing," she says. "I would choose to pair a nebbiolo such as the Damilano or even a crisp, light, slightly fruity glass of prosecco such as our Terriero Brut."

  At the Warehouse District restaurant Annunciation, McAlear serves as general manager, wine buyer and sommelier. Annunciation features contemporary Creole cooking by chef Steve Manning, who served as executive chef at Clancy's for years.

  Asked about a memorable wine and food pairing, he recalled a Cham- pagne experience.

  "Although I can't recall every detail, I do remember that the wine was a 1985 Champagne Pol Roger Cuvee Sir Winston Churchill," he says. "And, I was eating fried chicken.

  "It was so amazing," he says. "The crispy skin and the fatty, succulent meat of the chicken were the perfect opposites in texture but a great combination. Then I'd take a sip of this extraordinary Champagne and as the bubbles burst on the palate it just kind of cleansed everything."

He says that sparkling wines can pair well with just about anyting, including salty meats, potato chips and cheeses.

  McAlear recommended a good sparkling wine with one of the area's favorite dishes, fried chicken bonne femme with raw garlic. "There's lots of strong flavors, but it really works on so many levels. A taste of the fried chicken, then a sip of the Champagne. Those beautiful bubbles really refresh your palate," he says.

  Manning prepares a variation on chicken bonne femme by crisping the chicken in a pan and then roasting it in the oven with the garlic, and serving it over brabant potatoes, mushrooms and lardons with Marsala-based chicken stock reduction.

  With Annunciation's version, McAlear suggests a Spanish white wine from Priorat, Cellar Cal Pia Mas D'en Compte, or a French Bourgogne blanc, Domaine Maroslavac-Leger Puligny Montrachet. He's also fond of the Bussola Ca' del Laito Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore with the dish.

  Looking at some other Louisiana specialties, McAlear recommends pairing an off-dry Riesling Kabinett with crawfish or shrimp etouffee. "The wine's good acidity marries with the richness of the dish," he says.

  At the restaurant, McAlear chooses a white Italian Masseria li Veli Verdeca from San Marco to serve with etouffee. He even has recommendations for the most common lunchtime staples, like red beans and rice with sausage. McAlear says roses such as Cabernet d'Anjou or a southern Rhone rose are a perfect match. He also likes pairing either a valpolicella or pinot noir.

  With chicken or duck and andouille gumbo, McAlear likes a Priorat red because the wine is big enough to stand up to the dish, he says. "Rhone reds also pair well with game birds, and I can see a Gigondas or another southern Rhone with the dish, perhaps from Rasteau or the new Vinsobres AOC."

  Thinking of what to serve with shrimp remoulade, McAlear noted that the vinegar base makes for a more difficult pairing, and he suggests a light, clean Vouvray chenin blanc or a gruner veltliner, albarino or muscadet.

  With turtle soup, the sherry presents yet another issue, but McAlear again suggests reaching for an Austrian gruner veltliner, a dry riesling or even a chablis. "I also like the idea of a light red — a cru Beaujolais, a Fleurie or Moulin-a-Vent would pair well," he says. "The crus are not super fruity and have more depth and character than the village-level wines," McAlear adds.

  A popular appetizer at Annunciation is Manning's fried oysters topped with sauteed spinach and melted brie. McAlear pairs it with Eidosela Albarino from Rias Baixas or Marcel Deiss vin d'Alsace.

Oysters Rockefeller is another dish combining oysters and a rich topping.

  "With the traditional Oysters Rock, I would go with a muscadet from the Loire Valley," McAlear says. "It's a good bet because the herbsaint in the spinach mixture makes it hard to find a good match."

  With fried trout and other local fish, especially when topped with crabmeat or meuniere, McAlear recommends any white Burgundy or a well-balanced chardonnay, preferably one without too much oak influence.

  "A viognier would be a good choice as well,' he says.

  For Annunciation's crusty fried, wild Des Allemands catfish, McAlear's choice is clear, "Champagne! The Henriot Brut Souverain, Moet & Chandon Grand Vintage or Barnaut Grand Cru Brut Rose would suit the dish just fine," he says.

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