Bottled up: Discover figs paired with Malbec
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Bottled up: Discover figs paired with Malbec

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In grade school I encountered the bone-dry confections known as Fig Newtons and immediately determined my loathing for what I thought were figs. Little did I know fresh figs are some of summer’s most delicious bounty and can be used in everything from desserts to savory entrees and delicious appetizers. 

The dark oblong-shaped fruits bear the essence of a dark plum or cherry but with a slight citrus element pinging the sides of your cheeks with each bite. The challenge I find is that you see incredible combinations of flavor and preparations from TV networks, celebrity chefs, and all over the internet but in the Quad-Cities I have yet to find them at the store.   It was on the off-chance I made a trip to Trader Joe’s in Iowa City and saw on the shelf a container of fresh black mission figs, needless to say, I was overjoyed.

As a foodie and a wine enthusiast, I tend to get excited from the unusual and unconventional both with food and with the wines that I try.  Forsaking the banal profiles for flavor combinations that pack a punch while offering the completely unexpected. 

With this bounty in tow, I feverishly began searching for recipes and ideas.  Past the goat cheese crostini and pancetta wrapped figs, past the arugula and goat cheese salads which seemed too expected, I found a recipe for Caramelized Fig with Blistered Shallot and Jalapeno and knew I had to try it.

This simple recipe finds flavors in its ingredients and glorifies them.  Dressed with Ancho Chili Fig Jam, and completed with crumbles of feta cheese, this dish is salty yet complex, savory yet sweet.

I paired it with the 2017 Zuccardi Concreto Malbec ($39.99). Primarily produced in Argentina but with heritage hailing from France, Malbec is known for its deep hues of rich purple and flavors of red plum, blackberry, sometime blueberry, and sweet tobacco, vanilla and cocoa. The South American country splays its wine regions from north to south following the Andes Mountains. The regions of Salta, Tucuman, and Catamarca crown the north part of the country, while La Rioja, San Juan, Mendoza and Patagonia line the middle and south borders of the countries western border.

High in elevation, the regions benefits from a rain shadow which allows for maximum sunlight but not without its challenges. While the elevation allows the grapes to retain vibrant acidity, hard winds known as the “Zonda wind” blows down from the Andes peaks and can interrupt flowering but also prevent mildew and disease. In Argentina, most vineyards are planted 3,000 feet above sea level with some vineyards in the Salta region in the north towering at almost 10,000 feet above sea level. 

For three generations, the Zuccardi family has produced in the Mendoza region, cultivating its vines to become leaders in Argentinean wine production. With first plantings in 1963, the Zuccardi family produces not only Malbec but Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Verdejo, and Chardonnay. 

The Zuccardi Malbec is produced from 100% Malbec and is fermented and aged in concrete vessels (inert vessels) which impart no outside flavors on the wine and allow the grapes to speak true to their essence. Cultivated in chalky soils of the Zuccardi’s Paraje Altamira vineyards in the Uco Valley south of Mendoza, the wine showcases deep purple hues in the glass and showcases aromas of stewed plum, red cherry and ripe blackberry. Hints of tobacco and leather with mineral elements are ever so slight as you continue to smell the wine. Dry to the taste, flavors of ripe black and blue fruits come through to the palate with tastes of blackberries, blueberries, and striking mineral flavors that boasts a sleek finish to this wine. High in acidity and 14% alcohol, this is a great example of Malbec’s powerful flavors and refined presentation.  

This wine creates a perfect pairing by combining the sweet dark flavors of the black mission figs and the dark fruit flavors in the wine. Accentuating the sweetness of the shallot and complementing the smoky flavors of the Ancho Chili fig jam with its aromas of tobacco and vanilla and the cool flavors from the blue and blackberries taming the heat from the jalapenos.  While some may think it strange to pair a red wine with a dish with some heat, I found that in this particular case it worked quite well. 

As you venture to the grocery store to prepare your next meal I encourage you to take a look for the unusual ingredients on the shelves. These often lead to new discoveries and wonderful pairings.  The 2017 Zuccardi Concreto Malbec is one that I’m sure you will love and will be a mainstay in your cellar during the summer.

Carson Bodnarek, a self-proclaimed “cork dork”, is a certificate recipient from the Court of Master Sommeliers, WSET Level II and is currently studying for his certified sommelier exam. Always on the hunt for his next great bottle of wine for his collection, he is an avid jetsetter and devout foodie. After moving to Quad-Cities from Iowa City in 2013, Carson now resides in Bettendorf.

Contact Carson Bodnarek at 563-383-2299 or cbodnarek@qctimes.com.

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