Whenever I think about some of my favorite foodie experiences, many “hole-in-the-wall” establishments come to mind — ones that can only be described as slightly frightening but with aromas that are equally as enticing.
These are most assuredly foodie gold standard for something homemade and delicious. One such experience was in my college days at the University of Iowa. On campus was one such hole-in-the-wall place that was the old home to a liquor store, Mexican Restaurant and Hookah joint. Serving the best Mediterranean food was their specialty. Rich flavors and aromas filled the air of the restaurant, and cumin, garlic, parsley, and shawarma and gyro rotisseries all bring back memories of my weekly visits to Petra Falafel.
As a foodie and wine enthusiast, it is these memories that bring excitement to recreating the dishes and finding wines to pair with each and every meal. While the memories of visiting that restaurant are long behind me, I wanted to recreate and homage the classic college favorite but with a new twist: California Syrah. For this meal, I decided to pair with a new discovery, the 2015 6th Sense Syrah from the winemakers at Michael David Winery.
The Michael David Winery, in California’s Central Valley AVA southeast of Napa and south of Sacramento, has been home to the family-owned winery with roots in the region since 1865. To this day, the generations of the Michael David Winery still follow the time-tested, Lodi-established traditions of sustainable growing and preservation tactics that ensure countless generations of wine production for years to come.
The name 6th Sense comes as an homage to the sixth generation of wine producers in the family and almost seems to hint at the “gut” instinct that is required by most winemakers. You likely have seen at the grocery store other labels produced by this winemaker, including Freakshow, Inkblot, and Earthquake. But don’t let the kitschy labels deter you. This wine is anything but kitschy. Strong complexity from the very first few sips, it provides an enjoyable, easy drinking experience at an affordable price. Averaging between $16-$18 at your local grocer, this wine is affordable and great for every day.
As the wine rests in your glass, rich deep purple and violet colors swirl along with a slight rim variation, indicative of a youthful wine showcase, along the rim. The vibrancy and intensity of the color of this wine are strikingly noticeable.
Sniffing the wine, you immediately can detect the aromas of stewed blackberries, fig, cocoa powder, spice, ripe plum. Tastes compliment what you smell, with flavors of blackberry, jammy plum or preserves with slight flavors of dusty earth and pine straw. As the wine continues to rest and open in your glass, floral elements begin to appear with jasmine and gardenia flavors beginning to feature. This is a great example of being able to taste the warm interior wine region of the Central Valley compared to the coastal regions of Sonoma.
High alcohol (15.0%) and high acidity, this wine is aged for 12 months in French Oak barrels that give the Syrah grapes structure and additional tannin to maintain great complexity and pair-ability. The winemakers even add a touch of Petite Sirah that give the wine deep purple hues and rich complexity and velvety mouthfeel.
In the world of food and wine pairing, it’s always good to remember that there’s a strong differentiating factor between spicy and spice-laden. The difference is those dishes that make your forehead sweat vs. the ones that employ the use of spices from cumin, saffron, cinnamon and other well-known cupboard favorites. For spicy jalapenos, serrano, and green curry dishes, sweeter Rieslings are best suited, but for the spice-laden dishes of Middle Eastern cuisine or even that of a mild chili soup, red wines with comparable spice qualities often are a great match.
Pairing this Syrah wine with a meal of chicken kebab pita and saffron rice, this wine does a perfect job of complimenting the spice-rich ground chicken and still highlighting the sweet onion and saffron-soaked basmati rice served with the dish. The moderate tannins in the wine offer balance and structure against the spice and rich flavors in the dish but soft enough to not overpower the subtle characteristics in each and every bite.
As I reflect on my own experiences of hole-in-the-wall foodie experiences, I am constantly reminded of the role that food, and wine for that matter, have in our memory at creating the perfect meal. To this day, I can still visualize the restaurant of years past, and with each bite, capturing a snapshot of memory that forms our experiences and perceptions for what the next culinary discovery has to share. The 2015 6th Sense Syrah is a wine that I would classify not as something superior to stock and line your cellar with, but rather a wine that offers compatibility to every day food, providing complexity and approachability and perfect for a summer meal at home.