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Wineaux: Getting the bugs out of Thanksgiving wine pairing

By From page A7 | November 17, 2011

Sometime in the last century, on one of my “Europe-on-$5-a-Day” trips, I ate a bee. Covered in chocolate, it tasted like a Nestlé’s crunch bar. (I used to eat such before designer chocolate appeared on the scene — and before we discovered that Nestlé was pushing baby formula in the Third World and causing infant death rates to soar.)

I didn’t know when I bit the bee that I was engaging in entomophgy, otherwise known as bug-eating. While folks have been eating bugs for centuries, millennia, most modern First World sorts pale at the thought.

My chocolate bee or the traditional Oaxacan “chapulines” (dried grasshoppers) might not sound too bad, and we quite take for granted both escargot and John the Baptist’s diet of locusts and honey, but worms? Spiders? We shudder.

According to a recent cover story in San Francisco Weekly (Oct. 19) by Peter Jamison, though, a group of cooks and insect advocates are trying to rehabilitate the common bug as a good source of environmentally correct (low on the food chain, easily renewable, high quality protein) edibles.

Don Bugito, for example, is a San Francisco food truck run by Monica Martinez, who specializes in crickets, meal worms and moth larvae. She calls it “pre-Hispanic” cuisine and buries the critters in a home-made tortilla with peppers and tomatoes.

David Gordon, author of “The Eat-a-Bug Cookbook,” says San Francisco is “a hot bed of insect cuisine.” Can Davis be far behind?

Along with enthusiasts for scorpions and stink bugs come their detractors, who worry that bugs of many sorts accumulate — at very high levels — contaminants from the soil. Dave Gracer, a food insect supplier, counters that “lobsters and crabs eat trash and feces and dead animals, and grasshoppers eat salad.” Food for thought next time you’re trying to decide between crab cakes and grasshopper gratin.

I myself learned long ago to see the small creatures that appear in my organic lettuce as a sign of freshness. And added protein if I happen to ingest one inadvertently. If, though, we are actually going to coax the small creatures of this world into our meals, the question arises, “What do we drink with them?”

I hesitated to ask my favorite wine sources to recommend a worm larva pairing, so, instead, I couched my real question in a more acceptable one: What’s your top recommendation for an under-$20 Thanksgiving wine? I figured that any bottle versatile enough to complement sweet potatoes, cranberry sauce and turkey stuffed with oysters or innards or chestnuts would have no problem whatsoever with deep-friend tarantula.

The question has the added advantage of good advice for readers who might be reluctant to invite too many ants to the holiday (or any other) table.

The brothers at Valley Wine Company nominate Holly’s Hill Roussanne ($16). Smelling of flowers and honey, it has lovely citrus and melon flavors and is one of my own favorite Holly’s Hill wines. I agree that it would be perfect with fowl and trimmings. Black widows? Why not?

For a red, they suggest a very new and very local release, also $16, the big ’09 Boeger Barbera, “lush and round on the palate with notes of dark fruit and a hint of clove.”

Nugget’s recommendations follow a more traditional Thanksgiving dinner path — Pinot Noir and Riesling. It’s not easy to find a good Pinot under $20, but the Nugget guys assured me that Sparrow Hawk, now on sale for $16, delivers the classic Pinot cherries and strawberries with a hint of mushroom and violet on the side. Since “mushroom” and “violet” often signal a wine I really like, I might just have to try this Russian River offering.

The Nugget white recommendation sounds intriguing, too. From Australia, the Frisk Riesling ($9) has “intoxicating floral aromatics and vivacious citrus fruits.” And since I’m currently in favor of all things bubbly, especially for celebratory occasions, I’m delighted to learn that this wine fizzes a bit.

For bargain Riesling, “you can’t go wrong with Chateau Ste. Michelle (Washington State),” say the Nugget guys. Both they and I prefer the “dry,” but both sweet and dry are on sale now for $7.

Claire at the Co-op is excited about the Thanksgiving potential of a new arrival, the Mary Elke Sonoma Brut — from the Elke family, who have been supplying grapes for Mumm and Roederer for years. This bubbly “is such a wonderful complement to most foods … and of exceptional quality for the price (on sale for $17).”

She and I are both fans of crisp, minerally Muscadet. She says the Domaine des Dorices (currently $11) “will cut through the heaviness of any meal,” which would make it an excellent pairing for buttery mashed potatoes and gravy as well as for Baked Beetles Béchamel.

A red? Claire is having a hard time deciding between the Hobo Zinfandel at $18 (“Zin is not generally a first pick of mine, but I do love Zins from Dry Creek, which have less jam, more acid and earthier notes”) and the Edmunds St. John “Bone Jolly” at $17. If you’re a Beaujolais fan, but want to keep it local, this wine, says Claire, is “low in alcohol, but with gorgeous fruit intensity.”

After much deliberation, I think I might just get a bottle of Two Buck Chuck to serve with my sautéed earthworms and save these wonderful-sounding wines for my heirloom turkey.

Apologies to anyone who went looking for the Fiddlehead Big Bottle party. Kathy Joseph, the wine-maker, is madly trying to finish her Central Coast harvest and had to cancel. But do treat yourself this holiday season to a good wine-and-music pairing.

Rominger West, 4602 Second St., hosts folk/bluegrass/rock on Thursdays at 4:30 p.m. and classical/jazz on Fridays at 5:30 p.m. — both of which go very well with a glass of Tailwind Red.

And speaking of RW — the bottle of ’05 Syrah I brought to the table last Thanksgiving was a hit. It could very well be even better with another year of age. It’s $18 at the winery.

For more holiday wine ideas, come to my Tuesday afternoon wine-tastings (4:30-6:30 p.m.) at Monticello, 630 G St., where I’ll be concentrating for the next few weeks on good thing for celebratory meals.

A Happy Thanksgiving to all — with special thanks to grape-growers and wine-makers everywhere.

— Reach Susan Leonardi at [email protected] Comment on this column at www.davisenterprise.com

Susan Leonardi

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