For home consumption, I very rarely purchase bottles of wine for over $10. Rarer still are my purchases of wine for over $20. And when I'm at a nice restaurant, I use my ol' standby for ordering wine: I tap my chin with my forefinger, cock an eyebrow skyward, then order the cheapest bottle on the wine list (it's a classy move).
As I've mentioned many times in this space before, I prefer my brain cells to die by way of fermented grains rather than fermented grapes--I would much rather spend my money on good beer than iffy wine.
It's not that I don't like wine, or don't enjoy wine. It's just that, honestly, besides the generalities, I don't know anything about wine. And when indulging in Filipino food, I instinctively clear my gullet by reaching for the nearest cold beer--be it a San Mig or one of my favorite microbrews.
With all that said, I had to put my predilection for cheap wine aside after discovering a particularly intriguing winery--a winery that promotes the pairing of Filipino food with wine.
Yes, you read that right.
Wine pairing with Filipino food.
It's a concept that many of us, myself included, have never even considered. But it's a concept that perhaps more Filipinos should start experimenting with. Although our cuisine has historically been enjoyed with beer, Filipino food is equally delicious when paired with wine.
Eden Canyon Vineyards is located in California's San Luis Obispo county and is the first winery in the United States to be completely owned and run by Filipino Americans. This was of particular interest to me because Filipinos made up much of the migrant workforce that planted and picked California's grapes throughout the 20th century--a largely unknown and unappreciated part of our history. I even had aunts and uncles that worked the grapefields in the Bakersfield area (not necessarily wine grapes, but the same backbreaking work nonetheless).
After discovering this winery through a random internet search, I looked far and wide for a bottle of its wine at various local wine shops and liquor stores. No luck. But then I figured out that I could actually order Eden Canyon wines through their website and have a bottle delivered to me. Alcohol delivered right to my doorstep? I couldn't resist that now, could I? Of course not.
Including shipping and handling, a bottle of Eden Canyon's 2005 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon costed me almost $45.00--officially the most I've ever spent on a bottle of wine outside of a restaurant. (And yes, I did purchase this wine on my own. I am in no way shape or form being paid to write about this particular winery.)
While waiting for my wine to arrive, I found a couple of articles (here and here) that mentioned how Elaine Villamin, one of the proprietors of Eden Canyon, paired her wines with Filipino dishes. So I decided to contact Elaine via email and ask her straight up what I should prepare with the Cabernet I ordered. It was a shot in the dark, but I was hopeful she would reply.
Luckily, Elaine did reply and suggested a variety of Filipino dishes to pair with Cabernet Sauvignon: kare-kare (oxtails stewed in peanut sauce), adobo with coconut milk, lechon, crispy pata (fried pork knuckles), and caldereta (spicy beef stew). In my mind's eye (or should I say my mind's tongue) all of these dishes sounded like they would pair very well with a strong red wine, but the caldereta sounded especially good.
Caldereta is like any other beef stew: browned beef and sauteed veggies and aromatics that are cooked in a flavorful liquid for a few hours. But the thing that makes Caldereta uniquely Filipino is that it is usually thickened with pork livers in the form of canned liverwurst. Hey, I see you! Stop making that face! Liverwurst is delicious!
Anyways, to make my Caldereta I browned some chunks of beef chuck, then sauteed some onions, garlic, and carrots, and added some chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, red chili flakes, and a couple of bay leaves. I then added a cup of the red wine to deglaze my pot.
Finally, I added some water to cover and let everything stew for 2 hours. Towards the tail end of the cooking, I threw in some diced potatoes, diced bell peppers, and the mashed chicken livers.
In researching Caldereta, I found that there are 101 ways to make it. Although many recipes called for canned liver pate, I decided to stick with fresh chicken livers. You can also put whatever veggies you like in the stew, or add a small can of tomato sauce for more of a tomato-ey base.
The Caldereta I made was very satisfying. It had a nice bit of heat from the chili flakes, was chock-full of tender cubes of meat, and had a nice difference in texture between the soft vegetables and al dente bell peppers. The Caldereta also didn't taste overly liver-y at all; the chicken livers only enriched and thickened the stew but didn't give any off flavors.
Now, I am by no means a wine expert, but the Cabernet Sauvignon went very well with the spicy Caldereta. There were no competing flavors. The boldness of the red wine stood up to the spice of the stew, and the wine's fruitiness was a nice complement to the Caldereta's richness...
...wow. I had to stop myself. I was starting to sound like that guy that thinks he knows something about wine but really doesn't. I don't mind the dude that actually does know what he's talking about, I just can't stand the wannabe. I hate that guy. I don't want to be that guy. Let me just say this, folks:
Plain and simple, the Eden Canyon Cabernet and the Caldereta just tasted good together.
Ahhhhh, much better sounding, no?
But you don't have to take my word for it. Just take your favorite wine (it doesn't have to be from Eden Canyon Vineyards) and try imagining which of your favorite Filipino dishes will go with it.
For instance, I'm not quite sure what type of wine would match well with the bitterness of Pinakbet. I'm thinking maybe something on the dry side with a little bit of sweetness. Maybe a nice Riesling with a fresh and fruity nose and a dry, crisp aftertaste...
...wait, I was starting to sound like That Guy again. I have no idea what I'm talking about and am just guessing with the Pinakbet/Riesling combo. It might end up tasting good, or it might end up tasting like piss. If it ends up being the latter, I could always wash my mouth out with a cold San Mig, and try another wine pairing the next time.
And that's the point I'm trying to make. You're not going to find perfect pairings every time, but that's the fun of it all. Trial by fire, I say! Even if you don't know anything about wine, or if you have your suspicions about pairing it with Filipino food, you'll only improve your palate and appreciate your food more if you experiment a little. You don't need to be an expert to experiment.
Wine isn't just for the French and Italians anymore. Wine goes well with any cuisine--including Filipino cuisine. Even a dish as simple and rustic as Beef Caldereta can be elevated and taken to another level with virtuous vino.
In the end, it's just Filipino food paired with wine. And they taste damn good together.
Spicy Beef Caldereta
Serves about 6-8
1 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. beef chuck, cut into 1-inch cubes
1 medium red onion, diced
2 large carrots, diced
5 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes, or more to taste
2 large tomatoes, diced
3 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 cup full-bodied red wine
1 Tbsp. soy sauce
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1/4 lb. chicken livers, rinsed and drained
1/2 lb. potatoes, diced
1 red bell pepper, cut into strips
1 green bell pepper, cut into strips
Juice from 2 kalamansi limes, about 1-2 Tbsp.
Salt and pepper to taste
In a large dutch oven, heat oil over medium high heat. Season beef with salt and pepper and sear beef in batches until brown on all sides. Remove browned beef from pot and place in a large bowl. Set aside.
In the same dutch oven over medium heat, saute the onions and carrots until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, red pepper flakes, tomatoes, and tomato paste and cook for another 2-3 minutes. Add the red wine and deglaze the pot, making sure to scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon. Continue simmering the wine for 5 minutes.
Return the beef to the pot then add the water, soy sauce, and bay leaves. Bring pot to a boil, reduce heat, then simmer and cover for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
After the beef has simmered for 1 hour and 30 minutes, season the chicken livers with salt and pepper. Add 1 Tbsp. olive oil to a saute pan over medium-high heat and saute the livers until cooked through, about 15-20 minutes.
After livers are cooked through, process in a food processor until smooth. If you don't have a food processor, add cooked livers to a bowl and mash with a fork until as smooth as possible.
Add the mashed chicken livers to the dutch oven and stir well. Add the diced potatoes and continue simmering the pot for 30 more minutes, uncovered. If stew reduces too much, add more water as desired.
During the last 5 minutes of cooking, add the bell peppers and Kalamansi juice and check the stew for seasoning. Add salt and pepper as necessary.
Serve stew in large bowls with or without steamed rice. Provide Tobasco sauce on the side if desired.