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NorCal Wine Blog
A Delicious Assortment of Bacon Paired with Wine at PRESS in St. Helena
- Wine & Dine
- Written by Fred Swan
- Friday, 17 September 2010 01:24
Americans love bacon. It is loaded with so many of our favorite flavors: pork, pork fat, salt, smoke and sometimes sweetness. It has a great chew or crunch, depending on your preference. The flavors are deep and addictive, the pleasures are guilty. And you can eat it with your hands. It’s a shame that for so long bacon has been treated as just another breakfast side dish or burger add-on.
In recent years though, bacon has become an “it” food. Artisanal producers have started offering higher quality bacon and making it in a widening range of styles. Top chefs are using the rich flavors and al dente texture in amuses bouche, main dishes and desserts to mouth-watering effect. At Pirate Cat Radio Café in San Francisco you can even get a Maple Bacon Latte.
Now bacon is often the star of dishes, though it remains just one element in an ensemble of ingredients. To get the full impact of bacon and truly appreciate the great complexity of its flavors, you have to taste it by itself — no eggs, no cheese, no chocolate, no heirloom tomato soup. The best bacon-tasting experience I’ve had was at PRESS restaurant in St. Helena. I highly recommend you give it a try.
PRESS gives bacon all of the respect it deserves, enabling you to compare and contrasts the aromas, flavors and textures of not just one type of bacon, and not just three or four, but seven. You can order bacons individually ($3 to $5 for two slices) or do what I did and get a sampler platter. For just $14, you get one slice of each of their seven offerings. These artisanal bacons are deliciously powerful, so you might want to share the sampler with a friend as I did. Or, if you have a serious craving for comfort food, go all out and order the Truffled Mac & Cheese small plate ($10) to make a complete, and completely decadent, meal.
PRESS St. Helena
My platter of bacon included five selections (I was there just two days before they increased their selection to seven): Double-Cut Nueske Bacon, Crispy Hobbs Bacon, D’Artagnan Wild Boar Bacon, D’Artagnan Duck Bacon and Candied Hobbs Bacon. To add to the experience, I asked sommelier Scott Brenner to help me select wines from PRESS’ by-the-glass menu to pair with the bacon. He said that, in pairing wine with bacon, it is important to choose wines that have rich fruit. Less flavorful wines can be overwhelmed. At the same time, bacon has its own delicate nuances and you don’t want wine so powerful that it masks those flavors.
The bacon was arranged, as listed above, in order of flavor intensity. We decided on three wines that offered a similar progression: 2008 Ma(i)sonry Marsanne, Stagecoach Vineyard ($14/glass, $56/bottle), 2007 Abiouness Pinot Noir “Ten Rows,” ($13, $51), and 2005 Hunnicutt Zinfandel ($14/$56). I tasted each of the wines before trying any of the bacon and then tasted the bacons sequentially with each wine. PRESS also provides a basket of tasty house-made gougeres and exceptionally good bread sticks which allowed me to keep my palate fresh.
The 2008 Ma(i)sonry Marsanne has a lovely nose of white flowers, lychee and orange marmalade. It’s full-bodied and the alcohol is 14.5% but has enough minerality and freshness to be balanced. It has flavors of orange rind, lanolin, marzipan and slightly bitter minerality with a long finish of briny mineral. Highly Recommended.
The 2007 Abiouness Pinot Noir “Ten Rows” had more aromatic intensity and showed fresh Rainier cherry, Christmas spice and dried orange zest. Being Pinot Noir, the wine had a lighter body than the Marsanne, but was still rich with very smooth tannins and medium-plus acidity. Flavors of strawberry, cherry, raspberry and slightly bitter tobacco promised to be a good complement for the bacon. Highly Recommended.
We ordered the 2005 Hunnicutt Zinfandel to accompany the sweet and smoky Candied Hobbs Bacon. This wine comes from the Chiles Valley AVA and includes 5% Petite Sirah. All of the fruit is from old vines and the wine saw a 75:25 mix of American and French oak, 50% of that being new. The alcohol is 15.2% and the cherry and marionberry fruit is ripe but not jammy. The most prominent aroma and flavor for me though was whiskey barrel. Sweetly, but powerfully, spicy and oaky, it would go well with traditional slow-cooked BBQ with crusty bark and sweet, tangy sauce. Recommended.
On to the Bacon!
The Double-Cut Nueske Bacon is pure porky goodness. The thickness of the bacon gives it a meaty, chewy texture. To me, it tastes like “traditional,” albeit very high-quality, bacon — not too much of the applewood smoke and no perceptible added sweetness. Neither is it overpowering. If I wanted to eat several slices with breakfast, this would be my choice. The Marsanne was a very good pairing with the the Double-Cut Nueske. The flavors worked nicely together without merging and the Marsanne’s finish refreshed my palate. The Abiouness Pinot Noir was also a very good match and its flavors married with those of the pork. The bacon also made the wine more interesting, bringing out meaty and smoky elements. The Hunnicutt Zinfandel was good with the Nueske bacon, but not as good as the other two. The wine’s aromas and flavors were too dominant.
The Crispy Hobbs Bacon was indeed crispy. A much thinner and less meaty cut than the Nueske, you could snap it with your fingers. The fragile bacon breaks apart in your mouth and becomes creamy as you chew. It tasted like really good fried carnitas. Ma(i)sonry Marsanne was an excellent match for the Hobbs Bacon as the wine’s cleansing minerality cut through the richness of the bacon fat. The Pinot Noir did not work well though, because its flavors overwhelmed the bacon and, with less meat in the bacon, the wine’s tannins ran wild. The Zinfandel was okay, too strongly flavored but not tannic.
D’Artagnan Wild Boar Bacon is very lean with good smoked bacon flavor. It was saltier than the Nueske or Hobbs. Once again the Ma(i)sonry Marsanne was an excellent and refreshing pairing. The briny flavors in the wine fit well with the salted boar. The Pinot Noir was fine, but not exceptional, the fruit being a subtly jammy complement. The D’Artagnan Wild Boar was the first bacon strong enough in flavor to hold up to the Hunnicutt Zinfandel and it was a very good combination though neither element improved the other.
D’Artagnan Duck Bacon has a softly chewy texture that reminded me of fresh, moist, thick-cut jerky. It is dense and meaty with brine, smoke and a hint of sweetness complementing the duck’s natural flavor. That sweetness, though mild, was enough to mask all of the fruit in the Marsanne. As a result, this is the only bacon which that wine did not go well. On the other hand, the meaty duck bacon accentuated the cherry fruit in Abiouness' Pinot Noir and married with the tannins to give the wine a luxurious, creamy mouthfeel. The Zinfandel didn’t match up as well, it’s oaky flavors simply replacing, rather than complementing, those of the rich duck.
The Candied Hobbs Bacon is very good and reminded me of Chinese spare ribs, only better — more tender and artfully flavored. It is lightly smoky with complex spice notes and sweetness that is pronounced and, well, candy-like. It is a dessert bacon and best eaten after you have finished all of the others. Despite the Candied Hobbs Bacon’s sugary nature, the Marsanne was a very good pairing. It’s fruit was masked somewhat, but the wine refreshed after the luscious richness of the bacon. The Abiouness Pinot Noir was also very good. Its flavors melded with those of the Candied Hobbs Bacon, adding red fruit to create a scrumptious dessert in my mouth. Strong oak again limited the appeal of the Zinfandel with the bacon.
My favorites among the bacons were the Double-Cut Nueske and the D’Artagnan Wild Boar Bacon with their deep, traditional flavors that made me want more. Nor would I hesitate to order the Candied Hobbs Bacon to share with friends instead of a traditional dessert or cheese plate. Since my visit, PRESS has added two more varieties: Benton’s Country Bacon and Black Pig Bacon. I’m eager to go back and give those a try. When I do, I’ll be sure to order a glass of the 2008 Ma(i)sonry Marsanne.
Reservations for the bar are not accepted on Wednesdays, because they have a $10 Blue Plate Special on those days which is extremely popular. You can see a list of upcoming Blue Plates here. Wednesday is also “Locals’ Night” at PRESS. All bottles on their extensive Napa Valley wine list are available at half-price. (Bottles from the reserve list are not eligible for this discount.)
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This article is original to NorCalWine.com. Copyright 2010 NorCal Wine. Photos courtesy of PRESS and Balzac Communications. All rights reserved.