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Apr 30, 2008
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Wine With Salpicón

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas    

Although we are by no means experts in Mexican cuisine, we love the fabulously intricate flavors and textures of good south-of-the-border food. Beer and margaritas are often imbibed with this fare, but we find Mexican food surprisingly wine-friendly, especially when the hot chili component is in harmony with the dish rather than dominating it (as with wine, balance separates mediocrity from greatness).  So even though we aren't of Mexican descent ourselves, we think that Cinco de Mayo-the holiday commemorating the initial victory of Mexican forces over French occupation--offers a great opportunity for preparing a Mexican themed feast.  One of our favorite Mexican dishes is Salpicón, a moderately spicy beef salad that can stand on its own as a main course or serve as a side dish in a buffet.  It's fairly simple to make as most of the work is done ahead of time.

We discovered one common factor that tied together our favorite matches among the fifteen red, white and pink vinos we tested with salpicón: sweet fruit.  In general, we preferred reds slightly over whites, but on a hot summer day a good, juicy white wine would probably be preferable. There were only a couple of wines that fell short of the mark--a faint-hearted Sauvignon Blanc and an over-oaked Aussie Shiraz (in all fairness, it wasn't so much the varietal character of these particular wines that was in question, but rather their stylistic flaws-too little complexity in the former, too much oak in the latter).  Overall, we found that the meeting of salpicón and wine can be described in one word: excelente!

SALPICÓN
Serves 4-6

For the Meat:
2-3 pounds boneless brisket or flank steak
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large white or yellow onion, chopped
2 bay leaves

For the Dressing:
1 7-ounce can chipotle sauce
1/2 cup olive oil
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
1 clove garlic, minced
½ cup red onion, diced
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup minced cilantro

For the Salad:
2 ripe tomatoes cut in dice
1 large or 2 small avocados, cut in large dice
1 bunch radishes, thinly sliced
Optional add-ons: diced cucumber, diced cheddar and/or jack cheese, sliced scallions
1 large or 2 small heads of Romaine lettuce, shredded
Wedges of lime

To prepare meat: If possible, cook the meat the day before serving. In a heavy, deep pot heat the 2 tablespoons olive oil.  Salt and pepper both sides of the meat, then brown it on each side in the oil.  Add the chopped onions, the bay leaves and enough water to just cover the meat.  Simmer, covered, for 3-5 hours, depending on thickness of the meat, until it is very tender.  Refrigerate the meat in the broth overnight, or if using it right away remove meat to a cutting board (reserving a few spoonfuls of the broth) and let cool.  Trim all visible fat from the meat.  Shred the meat with your fingers, cutting longer shreds into pieces about 1-inch long.  Place the shredded meat in a large bowl and prepare the dressing.

To prepare dressing: Mix 2 tablespoons of the chipotle sauce with the rest of the ingredients.  Taste for seasoning.  About 3 hours before serving, stir approximately 1/3 of the dressing into the beef (it should be thoroughly coated, but not swimming in dressing).  Taste for seasoning, adding more chipotle sauce if desired.  Refrigerate until ready to serve.  Stir 1 tablespoon of the beef broth into remaining dressing and reserve.

To prepare the salad and serve: Approximately 30 minutes before serving, remove beef from refrigerator and taste for seasoning.  Stir in the tomatoes, avocados and any add-ons if using.  Line a large, deep platter with the shredded lettuce.  Spoon the beef over the lettuce.  Drizzle the remaining dressing over it all and garnish the platter with lime wedges.

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

Argyle, Willamette Valley (Oregon) Pinot Noir 2006

 

 

  $26

 

Just the right weight to pair with this dish, Argyle's fruit-forward 2006 Pinot has a soft, supple texture and a sweet finish.  That impression of sweetness only enhanced the match, as it provided an attractive counterpoint to the heat from the chipotle.

 

  

 

Beckman Vineyards, Santa Ynez Valley (California) Marsanne 'Purisma Mountain Vineyard' 2006

 

 

 $30

 

Tasting of juicy summer stone fruit (peaches and nectarines), with a sweet floral bouquet, this succulent white had sufficient stuffing to stand up to the beef, while at the same time making the dish seem fresh and lively.

 

 

 

Bellingham, Coastal Region (South Africa) 'Dragon's Lair' 2005

(Imported by Cape Wine Ventures)

 

 

 

 $26

 

A blend of Shiraz and Mourvèdre, enhanced with a dollop of Viognier, this Rhône-styled blend lacks the peppery earthiness characteristic of French wines, and instead tastes ripe and fruity.  Its plum and cherry flavors are enhanced by echoes of mocha and vanilla, giving it a slightly sweet note, something that only enhanced this particular pairing.

 

 

 

Chappellet, Napa Valley (California) Chardonnay 2006

 

 

 

  $29

 

Rich and ripe, with bright peach, mango and even pineapple fruit flavors, all enhanced by just the right touch of creamy vanilla from oak aging, this Chardonnay worked well because it tasted so generous and so well-balanced.  Many Chards made in this opulent style can seem excessive.  Not this one. 

 

 

 

Clos du Val, Napa Valley (California) Merlot 2005

 

 

 $26

 

 

Doing what Merlot advertises but too often fails to deliver, this wine tasted soft, supple but at the same time substantial.  Its cherry and dark berry fruit, along with its firm but in no sense overbearing tannins, gave the dish added depth.