WINE WITH…Borscht (Cold Beet Soup)
There are few things more inviting on a hot summer day than a bowl of cold soup, and few cold soups are more delicious than a classic beet soup. The word “borscht,” as chilled beet soup is commonly called, is a variant on the original Slavic name, but whether borscht was first spooned up in Ukraine, Russia, Lithuania or Poland is anyone’s guess. Not surprisingly there are any number of different recipes for borscht, some cold, others hot, meatless in
some places while in others meat and/or cabbage steal the show. For me, at least on a scorching late summer evening, borscht is most enjoyable served icy cold and simple.
I like to blend some carrot in with the beets for added flavor complexity. I also appreciate the way the carrot has a subtle effect on the soup’s color, elevating it from hot pink to a cooler sunset pinky-orange. Sour cream is Borscht’s standard garnish, although I prefer a 50/50 blend of sour cream and yogurt. Add minced fresh dill, parsley, scallions and/or chives along with the sour cream if you like, but I draw the line at minced hot peppers and/or chopped hardboiled egg which, in my view, detract from the soup’s intrinsic simplicity. A little chopped cooked beet, however, is an attractive and tasty garnish and contributes textural interest when the soup is pureed, as in this recipe. If you have good black bread or pumpernickel by all means serve that with the borscht, otherwise a nice sourdough loaf is always welcome.
3-5 cooked beets
1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 cup chopped onions
2-4 cloves garlic, chopped
5 cups chicken, beef or vegetable stock, or water
1 teaspoon fresh dill or ½ teaspoon dried
½ bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
Fresh dill or parsley for garnish if desired
Sour cream for garnish (or half sour cream/half unflavored yogurt)
Coarsely chop the beets. Dice about a cupful of them and reserve for garnish. Place the rest of the beets along with the chopped carrot, onions and garlic in a large pot. Add the chicken stock, the dill and the bay leaf. Simmer the mixture, covered, until the carrots are very tender, about 30-40 minutes. When it is cool enough, puree the soup in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. Chill thoroughly. To serve, divide the borscht among four soup bowls and garnish each with the reserved diced beets, the sour cream and the fresh herbs (if using).
Light is right with borscht, but that does not mean the wine should be boring. On the contrary, the best wines I paired with this soup were full of character and flavor but were restrained in acidity, oakiness and other aggressive characteristics. Each of the wines had overt fruit flavors that balanced the earthiness of the beets nicely.
Le Charmel, Rosé de Loire Controlée (France) 2018
($12): Pairing a pink wine with pinkish beet soup is appealing in itself, but the matchmaking with Le Charmel goes beyond simple visual pleasure, for this inexpensive French rosé has just the right fruity character to balance the soup’s tangy, creamy attributes.
Talbott, Santa Lucia Highlands (Monterey County, California) Chardonnay 2017
($28): Texturally generous, this Chardonnay’s forthright acidity is balanced by fresh fruity sweetness. It can be challenging to find the right vinous partner for chilled soup, but this wine definitely holds its own with both the earthy beets and the rich, velvety sour cream topping.
Valley of the Moon, California, Pinot Gris-Viognier White Blend, 2018
($14): A wine full of rich pear and tropical fruit aromas and flavors Valley of the Moon’s white blend mirrors the wine’s own flavor and textural highlights and is as refreshing and tasty as the soup itself.