Spring is upon us and so us the best season for mushrooms. While many times enticing and overly delicious, the little gems can be quite intimating. From foraging in the forest to the vast selection available at the gourmet grocer, many may find themselves overwhelmed. There simply are so many choices, which means pairing the unique little fungi with the proper wine can add a whole new level of stress to a fine food lover’s menu planning repertoire.
While no one truly knows how many types of fleshy fungi exist in nature, there are over 10,000 described species known in North America alone. That said, estimates dictate that the known species account for only about one third to one fifth of what’s really growing in the depths of the woods out there.
Traditionally, the umami sensibility of mushrooms has led us to follow the red wine rule – “red wine with red meat.” These days, though, all rules are out the window! Some of the most renowned chefs in the world are filleting fish and drizzling with red wine sauces or even pairing rich and aromatic fruits with finer cuts of beef and heavy, luscious whites.
So, as the food laws are changing, or we’re simply evolving to force them aside in order to broaden our appetites or fit the current rebellious “hipster” vibe we’ve come to love in the current food scene, mushroom menus are expanding and simply blowing our minds.
The thousands of fungal varieties we have at our disposal create thousands of flavor profiles, ranging from the mildest of overused and often droopy, salad topping button mushrooms, to the deep and luscious porcini and crimini creations that pack a profound punch on the palate. Each of these flavors, then, suggests a different wine pairing.
This new-found food-scene freedom means we really can pair food with anything! Who says a chanterelle mushroom risotto with a light cream sauce cannot be paired with a full-bodied Chardonnay or fancy-schmancy steak tartare with a golden glass of Riesling? Or how about caramelized oyster mushrooms and onions, topped with bleu cheese, contrasted by the greatness of a crisp pale ale?
Exceptions aside, mycology does play a large role in the mystery of mushrooms. The earthy gems with an all too foresty essence all tend to deliver their flavor profiles differently, dependent upon how they are prepared. Raw and delicate, the uncooked toadstools often pair well with a fruity Chianti. Yet, sautéed in butter, the flavors deepen, creating a whole new level of richness, full of panache. Such a change calls for the catching complexity of a Pinot Noir or Pinotage. Likewise, what the mushrooms are cooked with makes a profound difference as well. Velvety egg goodness with sweet corn tortillas and softly simmered ‘shrooms may require a glass of Pinot Grigio or a fruit forward beer, while a heavily crusted mushroom tart (still going with eggs here) lends itself to something meatier, perhaps a Zinfandel or red blend.
And on top of all that, mushrooms are truly magic. The depth, the variety, the complexity, and the mystery of the fungi will bring anything ~ anything ~ to another level. Part and parcel, fancy up some mushrooms in the kitchen and trick your tongue (and perhaps your guests too) into believing your wine is twice the price. It’s not just a dinner party trick, it’s mushroom magic!