Fall weather triggers a change in the colors of the landscape and thoughts of heartier foods and wines that enhance them. With the summer’s heaviest heat behind us and the recent tropical storm activity, mushrooms are popping up all over the place including front lawns and backyards. It’s no wonder that the “powers that be” who designate these things have designated September as National Mushroom Month.
Before we discuss mushrooms, please don’t pick or eat backyard mushrooms unless you know them to be safe—it’s far healthier (and less deadly) to trust your local grocery store or restaurant.
Fall signals the call for a slightly heavier wine, soups, stews and grilled foods featuring mushrooms and fall vegetables. Mushrooms are considered the red meat of the vegetable kingdom because the sometimes-earthy, sometimes-meaty flavor of mushrooms says “red wine. In fact, it’s hard for to think of mushrooms without immediately having pinot noir come to mind, with Burgundy leading the way. For an exceptional pairing, think Nicolas Potel Chambertin Grand Cru with it’s cherry aromas mingling with scents of smoke and mushroomy earth and a flavor profile of fat, sweet, red fruit mingling with deep, dark soil with a lovely mineral vibrancy that can only make this pairing a match made in heaven.
To be honest, mushrooms don’t have a singular flavor profile, they can be mild like the button mushrooms or pack a huge punch like a Porcini. Each type of mushroom suggests a different wine pairing, from lighter-bodied and more delicate for the buttons to fuller-bodied and more powerful for the Porcini. There are wines to enhance the meaty, apricot and nut flavors of Chanterelles; the delicate lobster mushroom and everything that falls in between. This is the time of year when restaurants begin to feature entrees with a prominent mushroom theme and, that being said, this is the time to experiment with mushrooms and wine on your own
Two simple rules to remember about mushrooms and wine are:
- Earthy mushrooms pair best with earthy wines. That means Black Trumpets, Chanterelles and Shiitakes pair beautifully with earthy reds such as Burgundy; Nebbiolo like Produttori del Barbaresco Nebbiolo delle Langhe or Marchesi di Barolo Barolo and an Oregon Pinot Noir like Bethel Heights Pinot Noir Willamette Valley.
- Meaty, heavier-textured mushrooms like the full-flavored Portobello, Cremini, Porcini, Morels and Chanterelles) pair best with “meatier” wines like Sangiovese, Syrah/Shiraz and can stand up to a heavier red wine, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Merlot as well as Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc and clarets (a blend of Bordeaux varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Petit Verdot, Malbec and Syrah). But a Pinot Noir is still a classic with Morel mushrooms.
A Cabernet Sauvignon like Twenty Rows 2009 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is exceptionally good with grilled Portobello mushrooms—the lush berry and black current will harmonize with the meaty Portobello. Often, when preparing Portobello as a filet mignon substitute, other dominant elements of the dish come into play, such as tomato or caramelized shallots and then it’s best to look for a wine that has bright acidity, a bit of a gamey scent and nice, sweet fruit. A Sangiovese blend like Antinori Santa Cristina or a Chianti Classico like Antinori’s Chianti Classico Peppoli offer the perfect acidity and sweet fruit plus an amazing, almost roasted-meat quality on the nose to transport the mushroom filet mignon status.
With simpler fare, such as a mushroom pizza, think regionally. While it will go well with as red Burgundy or Chateauneuf-du-Pape, opt for an Italian red, such as a Sangiovese. A Syrah such as Michel Torino Don David Shiraz compliments lightly sautéed Chanterelles with garlic, a tiny bit of onion, butter and olive oil—pair a rare steak or lamb chops and you will experience culinary heaven.
For the delicate varieties (lobster, enokis, and oyster mushrooms) the choice should be white wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Semillon, Riesling or a lighter Chardonnay. Light, fruity reds, such as Beaujolais would also work you want a wine that do not overpower your mushroom.
Napa Valley’s Girard Sauvignon Blanc 2010 will compliment the more delicate mushroom while a Bordeaux like Château Laulerie Bergerac Sec 2010 (a blend of 50% Sauvignon Blanc and 50% Semillon) will bring out the flavors of delicate mushrooms because of its vibrant acidity.
The key to pairing mushrooms with wine is how the fungi are cooked and what spices and sauces are used. French cooking schools advocate less is better, so keep it simple so you can taste the mushroom flavors. Hearty stews and soups, red meats and lots of spices generally suggest a heavier red wine. Light cream sauces, simple sautés and just a whiff or splash of seasons will work well with white wines. Sautéing mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil, with light seasonings and served over pasta is the best way to enjoy the flavors of seasonal mushrooms.
Of course, there are exceptions to every rule: for example a Pinot Gris like Bethel Heights Pinot Gris with a hint of smoke, can be a perfect pairing with meatier mushrooms.
When we encounter milder mushrooms in butter or cream sauces, a full-bodied white can be the way to go. A gently oaked Chardonnay like Chateau Ste. Michelle Indian Wells Chardonnay, Columbia Valley can cut beautifully through mushroom cream sauces bathing any chicken, pork or pasta dish. If in doubt, or for special occasions, you can never go wrong with a 100 percent chardonnay-based champagne or sparkling wine.
There really is something heavenly about combining the simple flavors of Chanterelles, Porcini and Portobello mushrooms with terroir-driven red wines such as Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, and the oyster and metallic flavors of shaggy mane or oyster mushrooms with a Sauvignon Blanc. Matsutake mushrooms have a spicy, clean taste that work well with an Alsatian white wine because it pairs beautifully with exotic and spicy flavors.
So give it a try and raise a glass or three to September’s fabulous fungi.