Because I spent most of my childhood and a four-year block of my early adulthood in Eastern Europe, it is safe to say that I appreciate aromas and flavors that in the American context may be unconventional – at least to some. And so I tend to like oxidized white wines (not to the exclusion of fresh wines with pure, focused fruit characteristics).
I should explain, though, that I’m talking about the kind of oxidation that takes place slowly over time in an unopened bottle and not in an open one, overnight on the kitchen counter. There is also a gradation of oxidation and even my preference and tolerance have their limits.
The level of oxidation I am thinking of is that transitional area where a white wine passes its prime and looses the clearly defined characteristics of citrus, tropical or stone fruits or floral notes and develops a slightly cidery, slightly nutty character with notes of apples just at the end of their ripeness.
When it becomes bitter and stale and is dominated by bruised apple (or, even worse, rancid walnuts) and other off flavors, a wine is too far gone – even for me. There is nothing left to do then but pour it down the sink.
But in that gray zone, where white wines are no longer perky and fruity, I have found them to offer very interesting food pairing possibilities. I try to consider every wine as a “solo sipper” as well as in the context of food and wine pairing. I have written before about what I pay attention to when I have wine with food.
Certainly, to the enthusiasts of Vin Jaune, wines at this senescent stage can hold great appeal as stand-alone beverages. Occasionally, I too enjoy pondering the character character and constitution of a wine at the end of its days.
What I find works well with wines at the nadir of their aromatic and flavor trajectories is pork, turkey, duck, pheasant and other meats with similar flavors and aromas. When my wife makes a pork rolade with a stuffing with nuts and dried fruits such as apricots and cranberries (similar to this one), I am a happy man – especially if I find an over-the-hill Chardonnay or Viognier in the cooler.
The cidery flavors fill in the voids in the meat making it more succulent. These wines seem to fit with the stuffing seamlessly, meshing with its savory and nutty character. The fading fruit character echoes (and good acidity pleasantly accentuates) the dried fruit in the stuffing.
Sauces and gravies based on meaty, earthy mushrooms (and maybe a touch of onion) can also work very well with these kinds of very mature wines. I have not tried to pair these wines with fish but would be open to readers’ experiences.
All this requires good acidity and minimal to no residual sugar for a successful pairing. Wines with low acids and prominent residual sugars in youth generally do not to fare well over time. They then make poor pairings with any food when they are at the end of their days.
As another rule of thumb, if cider or a Lambic Ale would work with a particular dish, it may be worth a try to open that last bottle of that white wine you know is dying.
If the pairing does not work; no harm, no foul. It was going to be thrown out anyway.
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