Octopus and Nebbiolo are a Delicious Match

November 3, 2011

It's fun to throw caution to the wind when it comes to food and wine parings. Like when I recently tried octopus with Nebbiolo, the most prestigious grape of Italy's Piedmont region. You may be familiar with Nebbiolo's most storied expression in the wines from Barolo and Barbaresco, but for a taste of these stately wines at a less dear price, look for a Nebbiolo from the Langhe region. This happy food and wine pairing came about at a local restaurant, while superfluously swirling a glass of the aforementioned Nebbiolo. Though drawn to a grilled octopus dish with fennel, green sauce, and chickpea purée, I engaged in some hand-wringing over whether this would be a good match. My conclusion: Why deny what I wanted to eat just because of what was in the glass in front of me?

My adventurous spirit and and insistent stomach were rewarded when, lo and behold, octopus and Nebbiolo turned out to be a lovely pairing. This was all due to the preparation of the octopus and the style of the wine. While it's standard to reach for a glass of white with anything from the sea, the char on the octopus gave it that great grilled flavor that works so well with red wines. And the Nebbiolo, the youthful 2010 Marchesi di Gresy Langhe Martinenga, was notable for being unoaked. It was a much lighter, fresher version of a grape that can make wines with some serious heft and power. And from some time in a car trunk (don't judge!) on a Seattle fall day, it had a slight chill on it. This was a Nebbiolo that could handle the licorice and herbal flavors of the fennel and pesto-like sauce as well as the puréed chickpeas with their slight nutty/earthy qualities.

One of the great things about wine is the constant surprise over what you think you know and what you can learn. It has been a humbling and enlightening few weeks for me, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Full disclosure: I was a guest of the importer and winery at this dinner.

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