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Oct 14, 2008
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Wine With Stuffed Peppers

by Paul Lukacs and Marguerite Thomas       

Like other foods native to South America, including potatoes, tomatoes and eggplant, bell peppers-so named for their glossy, bell-like shape-are popular the world over. Although they are available in markets year round, in the late summer and fall seasons there is something particularly appealing about the profusion of red, green, orange, yellow, chocolate-hued and purple peppers piled high in an edible kaleidoscope of nutritious deliciousness (peppers are loaded with vitamins A, D and B6, as well as fiber.)   No matter their color, all bell peppers belong to the same family (Capsicum annum) and are unrelated to black pepper (Piper nigrum). 

We favor red, orange and yellow peppers, in part because their milder, sweeter flavor is more welcoming to wine than the more bitter green variety (as a bonus, they are also higher in nutritional value).  Even so, finding the perfect partner for stuffed peppers isn't a slam-dunk, as we discovered recently when we sat down to a dinner with this old-fashioned dish and tested a dozen or so wines.  While the earthy flavors and distinctive tang of bell peppers will affect their interaction with wine, it is the ingredients in the stuffing, rather than the peppers themselves, that for the most part determine which wines work best.  We knew that chicken, seafood or cheese fillings would demand entirely different choices than a traditional meat and rice stuffing would, but we decided to stick with the traditional preparation.  

Although a full-bodied, fruity Chardonnay was pretty good with the dish, reds rather than white wines were generally more flattering to it.  Extremely light and delicate wines (the Brouilly in our lineup for example) were overwhelmed by the robustness of the dish, while overt acidity (as in a Sangiovese from Italy) unpleasantly accentuated the pepper's own twinge of acidity. The single pleasing characteristic that all of our favorite wines had in common was sweetness.  Whether from ripe fruit or from oak barrels, the munificent sweetness inherent in our top wine selections embraced the natural sweetness in the baked peppers, and at the same time underscored the complexity of the meat and rice mixture.          

STUFFED PEPPERS

4 bell peppers, preferably red, orange or yellow
2 tablespoons olive oil (mixed use)
1 small onion, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound ground beef
1 cup cooked rice (white or brown)
One 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes, or 1 ½ cups fresh
¼ cup minced parsley
1 teaspoon dried thyme (or 1 tablespoon fresh)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
½ cup grated parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  Cut peppers in half lengthwise, then remove stem, seeds, and fibrous core.  Steam or simmer the peppers for about 3-5 minutes, or until they have just begun to soften.  When cool enough to handle, arrange them in an oiled baking dish.

Place 1 tablespoon of the oil in a skillet and cook onions over medium heat until soft.  Add garlic and cook another minute or two.  Add the beef and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until beef has lightly colored.  Remove skillet from heat and stir in the rice, tomatoes, parsley and other herbs and seasonings.  Divide the mixture among the pepper halves.  Top with the grated cheese, cover the dish with foil, and bake for 15 minutes.  Remove cover, drizzle the remaining tablespoon of oil over the top of the peppers, and continue baking for another 20-30 minutes, or until browned and bubbly.

Serves 4

If you have any food and wine pairings that you think are outstanding, or if you've encountered any glaring mismatches, we'd love to hear from you.  Drop us a line at winewith@winereviewonline.com

 

Selection

Approx. Price

Comments

 

Dry Creek Vineyards, Dry Creek Valley (California) Merlot 2005

 

 

 

  $19

 

This Merlot seemed almost candied when tasted on its own, but its overt sweetness-distracting if the wine would be sipped as an aperitif-meshed very nicely with the sweet, succulent peppers.

 

  

 

Hess, Mendocino/ Lake/ Napa Counties (California) Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

 

 

 

  $17

 

We guessed that this wine might be too robust or heavy for this dish, but it turned out to be a very attractive partner.  The dish itself tastes fairly hearty, and this Cab's rich, ripe dark berry flavors complemented it very well.

 

 

 

Las Rocas de San Alejandro, Calatayud (Spain) Garnacha 2006

(Imported by European Cellars LLC)

 

 

 $12

 

Our guess is that many Grenache-based wines might taste too leathery or earthy when paired with stuffed peppers.  This particular wine, however, emphasizes the grape's ripe fruitiness, so it harmonized nicely with the dish.  It also offers the added advantage of offering fine value.

 

 

 

Rodney Strong, Sonoma County (California) Zinfandel 'Knotty Vines' 2006

 

 

  $20

 

A soft, subtle Zin, with bright cherry and red berry flavors and more than a hint of sweet (rather than savory) spice, this wine tasted ripe, with none of the off-putting alcoholic heat that mars many Zins these days.  It struck us as a very food-friendly example of the varietal.    

 

 

 

Chateau St. Jean, Sonoma County (California) Pinot Noir 2006

 

 

 

 $20

 

 

A richer, riper Pinot Noir than the classic Burgundian model, this wine nonetheless offers excellent balance, so harmonized well with our stuffed peppers.  The dominant impression it makes is of vibrant cherry-tinged fruit-a sweetness that seemed just right with this particular dish.