Dear Friends of Flatiron,
I’ve had umami on my mind lately. It started when people began asking for pairings with cracked dungeness crab, a naturally rich source of umami. The question seemed easy to most. And, it is, if what you’re going for is a nice contrast between the savory ocean-flavored quality of the crab with the bracingly mineral and citrus notes of a vermentino or albariño. But a great symbiotic pairing, one that meets those rich, brothy flavors beat for beat, is less obvious.
Having now had a chance to reflect upon this more, if what you want is one of the best symbiotic umami pairings, you really need a wine that’s spent some time under a veil of top fermenting yeast commonly called flor
Usually found as part of the winemaking process of biologically-aged sherries or sous voile white wines from the Jura like Domaine de Montbourgeau’s l’Etoile Cuvée Espécial, flor is starting to be added to the stylistic palate of many avant-garde producers both here and abroad. By utilizing this indigenous and spontaneously occurring collection of microorganisms winemakers are able to not just capture the essence of fruit and flowers, but also those deeper notes of salt, nuts, dried herbs, and even varnished wood.
What resonates between these flavors and that of seafood is a combination of heightening some flavors and canceling out others. The sharp angles and salty quality of the food and wine are neutralized while the sweetness and somewhat bitter quality inherent in both are heightened.
These are the flavor experiences I love in pairing the Fino from Bodegas Rey Fernando de Castilla, a perfectly balanced example of traditional biologically-aged sherry, with foods like shellfish and strongly flavored fin fish such as mackerel. The air around the bodega in Jerez smells like flor and salty ocean breeze, a quality reflected in all wines from this port city. When paired with crab, oysters or sea urchin the flavors seem to open up completely leaving behind briny flavors and revealing a rich creamy sea-sweetness and earthy notes of the deep sea. Next time you go out to sushi take a bottle of sherry with you and get ready for a whole new experience.
Of course flor aged wines aren’t the only wines that symbiotically pair with foods rich in umami. There are many different styles that work with savory flavors, not just clean up after them. But let’s take this one bite at a time and enjoy discovering what’s behind the veil of pairing seafood with wines aged under it.