Lou Amdur, may have sold his cozy, Laundromat-and-Thai massage parlor adjacent Hollywood strip mall wine bar, LOU, last March. But he still has that gift for being able to effortlessly hold forth on all things wine and food. Want proof? Recently, we got him on the phone to discuss appropriate Easter meal wine pairings. Along the way, he managed to squeeze in mini-lessons in what not to do with country hams, a definition for the Yiddish word gedempte, what a California Chardonnay could do to earn the descriptor of "slutty," as well as a tiny bit of news about Lou 2.0.
Squid Ink: Easter is in our near future. What wine is best to drink with a scored and glazed ham -- especially the kind that we were taught to make by the San Francisco chef, the great, late Bobby Miller?
Lou Amdur: Tell me how you make that ham.
SI: It involves an inexpensive bone-in ham that is drenched in super-carbonated Vernor's ginger ale, then wrapped in parchment paper, covered in aluminum foil and basically steamed for four hours at a very low temperature. After that, comes the glaze made of Dijon mustard, brown sugar, orange marmalade, cloves.
LA: That sounds delicious. There are two main American traditions of ham. One is the ham you're describing. The other is a dry, cured country ham. The oven-glazed Rockwellian ham almost always has a sweet component and that's because pork likes sweet. Maybe there is even something sweet about the flavor of pork so you sort of exaggerate it with a pineapple glaze, or Vernor's or the kind that uses Coca-Cola. So what kind of wine goes well with something that is sweet, salty and fatty and juicy all at the same time? There's a term in Yiddish -- gedempte.
SI: Meaning well-cooked.
LA: With gedempte chicken, the skin is flabby but really, really good because all the fat is rendered off. That's what ham is like to me -- something that's really falling off the bone. Probably it's not the most fun to have bone-dry white wine with a ham like that. The obvious and fun choices would be white wines that already have some residual sugar in them. Chablis would certainly work: You have the acidity in Chablis, but -- at least the Chablis I really dig -- tends to be kind of austere. It would be just fine, but I don't think it would be an EXCITING pairing. It's more like a crisp, refreshing pairing rather than something that resonates intrinsically in the food itself. I think this is a great opportunity to drink delicious off-dry wines meaning wines that are not overly sweet, but have a good balance of acidity.
SI: An example?
LA: A Loire Chenin Blanc is the bomb. Wine from Montlouis is one appellation. There's a really great grower there named Chidaine who makes a ton of different wines. Some are quite dry, a lot of them have residual sugar. The wines are racy because they have great acidity.
SI: What about sparkling wines?
LA: This would be a great opportunity would be to try a sparkling natural wine from the Loire Valley. With a sparkling wine you are getting some acidity from carbon dioxide itself, you're getting an impression of acidity on your tongue from the CO2 that's in the sparkling wine.
Again, when I say "natural sparkling wines," I mean that these are wines that are fermented completely naturally -- there's no yeast, no nothing added. The winemaker just bottles the wine before it's finished fully fermenting. It finishes fermenting in the bottle and the carbon dioxide is captured by the cap. It's very simple to make all that sparkling white wine inexpensively.
It's also an opportunity if you have a slutty, oak-y California chardonnay that's been languishing in your cellar or cabinet it's just not your thing. That's a good time to drink something like that.
SI: Slutty? What makes a white wine "slutty"?
LA: Let's talk about the theory of a slut. A slut is inviting, is open, is warm, maybe kind of simple and one-dimensional and seduces you with really obvious charm. A slut does not invite contemplation -- it's very inviting and hard to resist. These really voluptuous California Chardonnays are not my kind of wine, but if I had one in my cellar that someone had given me, that's a good time to drink that wine. You're getting, again, a not-obvious but definite level of sugar in the wine. Most of the impression is not coming from the residual sugar but the vanilla on the oak and the alcohol together combined to make it this luscious thing.
SI: What's an example of a slutty Chardonnay?
LA: Rombauer is the most famous. If you like oak-y Chardonnay, you cannot do wrong with a bottle of Rombauer. It's a very, very well made wine. That's sort of their brand. There's a much more interesting wine, though. I always like playing the joker and turning people on to wines that there's sort of a cognate with them, they totally connect them but they are totally not what they thought they are getting into. There's a wine made by a Friulian winemaker in the northeast of Italy whose name is Bressan. He makes a range of different wines, but the one I was thinking of that would go well with the Vernor's glazed ham, is Verduzzo. His Verduzzo is screaming good.
SI: As in it makes you scream? That sounds like quite an Easter dinner.
LA: [patient sigh] It has a lot of acidity. He holds it back for several. If you've never gotten excited by a Verduzzo before, or never even seen one, this is a really, really fabulous example of what can be done.
SI: So the Bressan Verduzzo is for oak-y Chardonnay lovers?
LA: Yes, or there's also a Slovenian wine from Batic. They love a local grape called a Pinela. It comes in a really bizarre bottle that looks like a sex toy.
SI: We have seen that bottle and it, indeed, looks like something that requires a couple of C batteries and can be purchased online at Adam & Eve.com.
LA: But the wine is absolutely not schlocky -- it's superb.
SI: Like Thanksgiving, Easter meals can mean a lot of people. What would you suggest as a value wine?
LASomesom: It's a good opportunity for some lighter-bodied reds. I might recommend an old California grape that I really like a lot called Valdiguié. I've seen them range from $12 to $20. It's a fairly reasonable wine.
SI: Isn't Valdiguié thought of as deeply ordinary?