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For those of you who don’t mind crowds and want get your Illinois wine on, Vintage Illinois pours next weekend, September 20-21, at Matthiessen State Park. And while entry is only ten bucks, you must buy $1 tickets for each pour. This gets pricey fast. However, pours usually are more than enough to get a good taste and then share with a friend. (Hopefully my companions won’t mind sharing more than just my witty company.) And kids, remember a designated driver. I am more than happy to help connect any of you looking to carpool. Just leave a post.

Now, let’s talk weather. Remember all that early rain? It pushed back ripening on many tree fruits. This week’s batch of rain made my brain switch from ‘what can we possibly do with all these tomatoes’ to ‘can I roast some things for dinner?’ I also needed to make some apple pies. I packed the critter into the station wagon and banged out past Rising, Bondville and White Heath to Wolfe Orchards, who, in my opinion, have the best pomes in our area. Along with finding some great apples for my pie compulsion, those June rains pushed the last of the peaches back enough to make things doubly yummy.

We got McIntosh, Empire and Jonagold apples, all hard, crisp varieties that will hold their shape in pie. I love the pungent aroma of a bag of McIntosh. It smells sweet and delicate with a bit of grapey freshness. Wolfe’s amazing heritage apple collection has more and more coming on in the next few months—Esopus Spitzenburg and the newer Ginger Gold to name a few. You can only buy their fruit there, so enjoy the trip out to a real orchard without a kitschy and contrived ‘rural’ experience.

The half hour in the car on the way back gave me time to fantasize about the wonderful food to follow. I played a little wine and food pairing game and came up with the following menu based on what is in my fridge, garden and pantry.

  • Rocket, Empire apple and pepita salad with cider vinaigrette
  • Baked apples stuffed with savory wheat berry pilaf, almonds and aged goat cheese
  • Pork chops roasted with McIntosh apples and tangy onion marmalade
  • Peach pie with dried cherries, almond crumble and cinnamon ice cream

Most wine books I’ve read present food matching as a memorization game (think white wine goes with fish). Those rules serve a purpose but rob eating of the imagination and combination of intellectual and sensual stimulation that makes great food so beautiful. Vegas sommeliers stake their six figure salaries on propagating the notion that perfect food and wine pairs exist. They don’t. Sure, great matching can be breathtaking, but there’s no way you can successfully argue that bottle x and only bottle x goes with those biscuits and gravy. Yes boar goes great with Brunello and chevre with Sancerre. These classic matches work so well because they have both parts of successful pairing on their side: locality and balance. But maybe you hate sauvignon and want to drink beer. Go for it.

Further, what if your goat cheese comes from Urbana? Why not drink some Traminette made nearby instead? So just for fun, lets play the Wine Geek Pair Off! If I were to give this dinner as a formal coursed out affair tonight, I would serve the following wines. I would serve them because I like drinking them and know they will go pretty well with the food. I think. And hopefully my friends enjoy my mental preparation and fretting over just which Chambourcin to serve. Here’s one for each dish.

White Owl Sparkle NV: No, the grapefruit is not grown in Birds, Ill. This is super fun stuff. Maybe a bit sweet, but the bubbles and that bitter grapefruit rind taste make this completely refreshing. It will not be overwhelmed by the cider in the vinaigrette and the touch of sweetness will enhance the apples and tame the peppery intensity of my (now bolted) arugula.

Fox Valley Winery Traminette 2006: This is a light styled Traminette with simple floral and apple notes that will match the apple, bounce off the goat cheese and handle the richness of the wheat berry pilaf. Traminette has a waxy body that stands up well to nuts. This would also go well with the pork chops or salad.

August Hill Hieland Red 2007: This Frontenac has big acid and bright fruit perfect for the onion marmalade on the pork. The chocolate notes will frame the apples and the earthy undertones are right for pig. These pork chops are challenging because you have to balance sweet, tart and fat all at once. Frontenac typically has plenty of acid for the fat and tart, and the boisterous cherry fruit can handle sweet without needing sugar in the wine. This is also a great example of Frontenac.

Pheasant Hollow Red Razz: Finding wines for desserts that are not too sweet can be challenging, and I find raspberry wine often has the right sweet-tart personality to not make things too heavy. Take the essence of summer raspberries packed into a bottle with no more or less sugar than they would taste naturally. I think the subtle cinnamon and mint notes in this wine make it a natural partner to peaches and dry cherries.

By the way, my fantasy course dinners always end up being served family style. So put everything out together and have at it. Hope to see you at Matthiessen next weekend.