Pairing Off Falafel

It’s not as easy as “you say Gris, I say Grigio.”

The grape in question is the same, either way. Matters originally out of a winemaker’s control—geopolitical boundaries and language—gave us the linguistic divide. Although the wine is straw to amber in color, the grape itself takes on a gray tone.  

Gris is French for gray. Let’s assume Grigio means gray in Italian. Why that doesn’t translate into Pinot Gray in English…yeah, no. It sounds better in a romance language.

Yet there are many—including winemaker Jeffrey Blair—who say the names imply different stylistic approaches to the varietal, that because of regional tastes and terroir, the two are crafted with different profiles in mind. Indeed, many people consider the Italian version the lighter, more acidic of the two.

Blair produces a Pinot Gris. Amber in hue and rich on the nose, the 2017 vintage from Blair Estate welcomes you with aromas of ripe stonefruits, bruised apple and a soft, nutty spice, with just a hint of citrus zest waving for attention from the background.

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A sip balances fruit and acidity, with the zing of quince pouncing on the finish. But there’s also a warming touch of ginger and a more sobering notion of must. The savor of almond throughout gives the wine a more opulent mouthfeel.

The winemaker achieves this by treating half of the juice in oak, the other half in stainless. It tips neatly between brisk and mellow. And, Blair points out, “it goes good with everything and anything.”

That’s important, because this week’s pairing offers up some difficulties. Falafel—in this case from Paprika Cafe on Lighthouse in Monterey—is nutty and earthy, with a slight herbal taint and crust that shatters into an airy dough. The flavors and textural contrast may not be wine pairing stumbling blocks. But how often does a wine expert think “I wonder what goes best with Mediterranean street food?”

The Blair Pinot Gris picks up a spicier note and the fruit builds in richness when pitted against falafel. For its part, the nutty tint of the fritter becomes more pronounced, pricked by stronger herbal points.

So Blair is right—a versatile white like his Pinot Gris or a Sauvignon Blanc. Viognier would work, a Rosé or (of course) a sparkler. So, you know, if you happen upon a vendor (or window service, as is the norm now at Paprika Cafe) and are fortunate enough to be carrying the right bottle of wine, you know what to do.

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