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Sep 15, 2009
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Wine With . . . Seared Scallops, Leeks, and Bacon

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas

Our friends, the culinary writer Joanna Pruess and her husband, restaurant critic Bob Lape, collaborated a few years ago on a book called Seduced by Bacon: Recipes and Lore About America’s Favorite Indulgence.  Talk about fun research! 

Among the delicious recipes they came up with, one of the most irresistible is a dish with scallops and leeks that turns out to have been the inspiration for the entire book.  We like to serve it as an elegant first course, and it always gets raves from guests.  We’ve also found that it makes for a terrific, easy-to-prepare main course—whether for the two of us or for a dinner party.

Most of the wines we’ve served with this dish when we’ve made it seem to have been agreeable matches.  Yet the preparation includes such a wide variety of flavors that we decided to put this casual observation to the test by tasting a variety of different wines side by side with the scallops.  We found that our initial impressions had been right all along, but that different wines pair well for quite different reasons.  (See below for specifics.)  Your choice may well depend on the mood of the occasion, the season, financial considerations, or just plain personal preference.


Serves 4 as a first course, 2 as a main dish.

¾ cup balsamic vinegar

2 slices bacon

3-4 large leeks, washed, white and light green parts thinly sliced

2 tablespoons heavy cream

1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves + 4 tiny sprigs for garnish

Coarse sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

4 large diver scallops, tendon removed, blotted on paper towels

Pour balsamic vinegar into a small saucepan and reduce to 3 tablespoons.  Set aside.

Fry bacon in a heavy skillet until crisp, remove, blot on paper towels and chop into small pieces.  Discard all but 1 tablespoon of fat in pan and heat over medium-high heat.  Add leeks and sauté until tender and beginning to color, 3-4 minutes, stirring often.  Add cream and thyme leaves, and reduce over high heat until cream coats leeks, about 1 minute.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  Keep warm.

Heat butter in a small, heavy skillet over high heat.  Add scallops and cook until a rich brown on 1 side, about 3 minutes; then turn and cook second side for 3 minutes.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Divide leeks among 2 or 4 small plates.  Put 1 or 2 scallops on leeks; drizzle with reduced balsamic vinegar, add crumbled bacon, and garnish each plate with a thyme sprig.  Serve at once.


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In addition to being delicious, this is a quite complex dish.  The salt and smoke in the bacon, the sweet balsamic reduction, the faintly briny taste from the scallops, and the somewhat herbal note from the leeks make for quite a mélange.  When trying various wines with it, we found that different ones echoed or complemented different aspects of the dish.  Consequently, there was no single common theme uniting the wines that we thought worked best.

We tried twelve different wines.  Those with an overt sweetness (both the Riesling and the Pinot Noir that we are recommending) performed especially well, but then so too did those with a crisp brightness verging on austerity (the Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and unoaked Chardonnay).  The divergent styles, though, accentuated quite disparate components and qualities in the dish.  Choosing one over the other depends, in the final analysis, on what you want that particular day. 




Approx. Price



Alcance, Valle de Casablanca (Chile) Sauvignon Blanc 2008

(Imported by Calina Ltd.)





A bright, almost bracing Sauvignon Blanc, this wine’s lively grapefruit and lemon flavors meshed nicely with the complexity of the dish, providing a foil for the sweet balsamic reduction, but echoing the citrus and faintly herbal notes in the leeks.




Clos du Val, Carneros Napa Valley (California) Pinot Noir 2007




We tried just one red wine with this dish, and it both surprised and delighted us.  Supple and slightly sweet, this Pinot especially accentuated the flavors coming from both the balsamic and the bacon.  We feared that it might prove too powerful, but

It ended up feeling (and tasting) just right.




Pietra Santa, Pacheco Pass (California) Pinot Grigio “Dunne Ranch Vineyard” 2009







Weightier and richer than most northern Italian Pinot Grigios, this California wine’s somewhat steely character proved very lively when paired with what, after all, is quite a rich dish.  It had a full enough body to hold its own, and tasted above all refreshing. 




Charles Smith Wines, Columbia Valley (Washington) Riesling “Kung Fu Girl” 2008






Slightly off-dry, this wine’s peachy personality seemed delightfully vivacious when it was sipped with this dish.  It brought out the inherent sweetness in both the balsamic reduction and the scallops themselves, but its crisp acidity prevented the experience from ever becoming candied or sappy.  Interestingly, the wine tasted significantly sweeter when tried on its own.





Villa Maria, Hawkes Bay (New Zealand) Chardonnay “Unoaked Private Bin” 2008

(Imported by Vineyard Brands)






Much like the Pinot Grigio we are recommending, this wine’s virtue as a partner for this particular dish came from its tasting refreshing, and hence making us eager for another bite (and sip).  Its charm came less from any specific flavors than from its intrinsic brightness.