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Jul 17, 2012
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Wine With...Cold Beet Soup

By Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

You can call it borscht, which is its name in Russia, Poland, Ukraine and other Slavic countries, and where it may be served hot or cold, thin or thick, rustic or elegant. The English spelling varies (among Wikipedia’s suggestions are borsch, bortsch, borstch, borsh) as do the ingredients, which can include cabbage, potatoes and/or tomatoes. Or you can keep things simple by just calling it “Beet Soup” and serving it icy cold for a wonderfully refreshing starter or a meal in itself on a hot summer day. To make it ultra lean and streamlined use nothing more complicated than beets, yogurt and a flash of garlic and dill. Or give it extra depth of flavor and nutrition, as we did here, with the addition of chicken stock, carrots and a tomato or two.

One of the things that inspired us to make this soup was a display of beets at our local farmers’ market, which inspired a dialogue between us along the lines of: “What do you think would be the best wine with a cold beet soup?” “A Sauvignon Blanc as cool and refreshing as the soup.” “No, I’m thinking a wine to mirror the earthiness of the beets, maybe a Pinot.” “But I wonder if a lush Chardonnay would echo the creaminess of the yogurt.”

And so it went, back and forth, until we finally decided to just buy some beets, then get home, make some soup, and see for ourselves what works and what doesn’t.

Cold Beet Soup

Serves four as an appetizer.

For more delicate flavor (and a vegetarian option) replace the chicken stock with vegetable stock or water. To turn the soup into a hearty one-dish meal, garnish each serving with chopped hardboiled egg, cucumber, and/or radishes. Some recipes also call for the addition of boiled potatoes, bacon, or mushroom dumplings.

2 cups cooked, peeled and coarsely chopped beets
1 small onion, chopped
1 carrot, finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cloves garlic, chopped
4 cups chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste
1 teaspoon dried dill
½ teaspoon finely grated lemon peel
1 cup unflavored yogurt, plus more yogurt or sour cream for garnish

In a large soup pot cook the beets, onion, and carrot in the oil until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the garlic and continue cooking for another few minutes. Transfer the ingredients to a blender or food processor, and process until finely puréed (add water or stock if necessary). Return the puréed vegetables to the pot and add the stock (or water), salt and pepper, dill and lemon peel. Bring the soup back to a boil, then simmer it for about five minutes, and remove from the heat. When it has cooled slightly, whisk in one cup yogurt. Refrigerate until mixture is thoroughly chilled. To serve, add chopped hardboiled egg, cucumber and or radish if desired, and top with a dollop of yogurt or sour cream.

* * *

Well, we didn’t really solve the mystery, as all sorts of wines worked just fine with this refreshing soup. We did find, though, that some didn’t work, and we’d recommend against any reds with overt tannins, delicate whites that can turn bitter alongside the earthy flavor of the beets, and wines with lots of alcohol that turn unpleasantly hot alongside the cold soup. Otherwise, a range of styles and varieties fared just fine. We opened thirteen bottles priced around $20, including reds, whites, bubblies, and rosés, and for different reasons, the following five were our favorites.


Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Grenache Rosé “Purisima Mtn Vineyard” 2011

$18

A fruit-filled and slightly peppery rosé that, while nodding towards comparable wines from southern France, tastes very Californian, its bright berry flavors being its calling card. We tried another, more delicate rosé, and this one got the nod due to its forward, sunny personality.

Bridlewood, Monterey County (California) Pinot Noir 2010

$20

Unlike a more substantial Rhône red we tried, this smooth, supple Pinot did not interfere with the soothing soup. Instead, it accented the flavors of the beets.

Kendall-Jackson, California Chardonnay (Vintner’s Reserve” 2010

$15

The lush texture of this popular Chardonnay meshed effortlessly with the equally smooth soup, making the combination seem seamless. Its opulent fruitiness enhanced the match, giving it an appealing hint of sweetness.

Mulderbosch, Western Cape (South Africa) Chenin Blanc 2010

(Imported by Cape Classics)

$15

.

Fairly light-bodied but full of pear and apple flavors, this attractive Chenin Blanc starts dry but finishes with a slightly sweet touch. Its evolution on our palates matched a similar progression with the soup, making for a very tasty pairing.

Mumm Napa, Napa Valley (California) Brut Prestige NV

$22

As readers of this feature probably know by now, we’re suckers for sparkling wine with soup, as their effervescence can provide an intriguing contrast to the soup’s texture We tried two this time. One, a fairly fancy cava from Spain, seemed too dry and austere. But this flashier Californian tasted just right, its berry and apple fruit flavors holding their own happily.