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The Perfect Food and Wine Pairing for Date Night

Updated: Feb 18, 2022

I love celebrating Valentine’s Day, but as a parent of a toddler who goes to bed before the sun, going out isn’t an option this year. That got me thinking about how to have an amazing Valentine’s Day dinner date at home. For me a good dinner date involves delicious food and, of course, good wine! As a self-proclaimed foodie and amateur chef (i.e. I watch a lot of Food Network) and as the wife of a winemaker, I have pretty high standards. Here is my top choice for a wine and food pairing delight to make any at-home dinner date feel like a 5-star experience!

The Food: Instant Pot Paprika Chicken and Rice

This is hands-down my husband’s favorite meal and for good reason! Rich, savory spices infuse both the chicken and rice with complex, mouth-watering flavors and smells for a restaurant-quality dish in under 30 minutes of hands-on time.

The Ingredients

· 1 ½ lbs. boneless, skinless chicken thighs (trimmed to your liking)

· 1 teaspoon salt

· 1 teaspoon pepper

· ½ teaspoon paprika

· ½ teaspoon smoked paprika

· 1 teaspoon dried parsley

· 1 tablespoon olive oil

· 1 tablespoon garlic, minced

· ½ cup red onion, diced

· 1 cup long grain rice (you can also use brown rice but add 5 minutes to the cooking time)

· 1 ½ cups chicken broth (This Brand is by far my favorite)

· salt, to taste

· pepper, to taste

1. Place chicken thighs in a bowl and season with salt, pepper, paprikas, and parsley.

2. Turn Instant Pot on sauté mode and heat olive oil. Once the oil is hot, sauté the chicken thighs for 4-6 minutes per side and then remove.

3. Add onion and garlic to the Instant Pot and sauté for a few minutes until the onions are transparent.

4. Add chicken broth and scrape up brown bits from the bottom of the Instant Pot. Then, add rice and bring to a boil.

5. Once the broth is boiling, place chicken thighs on top of rice and put on the lid. Turn the Instant Pot off and then turn back on in Manual mode and set the time for 13 minutes.

When the time is up, let rest for 5-10 minutes before manually releasing any remaining steam. Remove lid, serve, and enjoy!

*You can also make this in an oven. Follow instructions as above in an enameled pot and bake at 400 degrees for 35-40 minutes, or until the rice is fully cooked.

**Adapted from the Paprika Chicken & Rice Bake recipe from Tasty

The wine: Cabernet Sauvignon and/or Tempranillo

The sweet, smoky, savory flavor of this dish lends itself well to a medium to full bodied red wine. The fat from the chicken thighs can also help tame the tannin of a big red. For extra fun, choose a bottle of both and see how the wines and the dish play off one another!

Storebought Options

Cabernet Sauvignon - Rick’s Pick: 2017 Louis Martini (Alexander Valley, CA)

The jamminess of a good California cab will bring out the sweetness of the paprika in the dish, and it’s full-body will hold up to the more savory, complex flavors. The 2017 Louis Martini from Alexander Valley hits on all cylinders and will keep you coming back for more, long after all the chicken is gone... probably should buy two.

Tempranillo - Rick's Pick: 2015 Aisteer Bodega 202 (Rioja, Spain)

Spain is the obvious choice for this wine, but don’t overlook Oregon and even Texas. A bold, smoky Tempranillo will play up the smoked paprika and caramelized chicken. Tempranillo is often high in tannin and can be more unforgiving if served at improper temperatures. I like to serve at about 63-66°F. If you find the tannin a little too rowdy, let it warm up to about 70°F.

Rick's Homemade Wine Pick

2020 Cabernet Sauvignon - Lanza Clone 15 Grapes (Suisun Valley, CA)

This wine turns all the dials up to ten. The Lanza Clone 15 grapes are not cheap but are worth it for a special occasion wine. The wine takes savory to a new level, but still has gobs of fruit on the nose. The flavors linger on the tongue long enough to read an incredible Smart Winemaking article.

This wine was picked at 27°brix and a pH of 3.41, so it is not for the faint of heart. Right off the vineyard, the must had a great skin to juice ratio with the blueberry sized berries from the high elevation vines. I pulled off about 15% juice shortly after the crush, increasing the ratio even more. A high alcohol wine like this can use all the tannin it can get to balance out the perceived sweetness from the ethanol.

After a brief cold soak, I started the fermentation with Lalvin BDX Yeast. BDX has a tendency to create a little acetaldehyde. While counter-intuitive, this can be helpful for intensely colored reds, as it binds up tannin and color pigment (anthocyanin) before it has a chance to fall out. Once bound, the otherwise smelly acetaldehyde will no longer contribute aromatically. These polymerized, larger molecules can improve mouth feel substantially.

Peak fermentation temperature was about 84°F on day three and tapered off to 72° as the fermentation slowed down. I will often let a red wine climb to 86°F or even 88°F early in the fermentation to extract the more favorable, water soluble phenols.

During fermentation, the pH was holding steady at about 3.4. After several days of fermentation, I nudged it up with potassium bicarbonate. In total I ended up using 26 grams over three days to bring the pH up to 3.5, which is a much friendlier place to start malolactic fermentation in a wine with already high alcohol levels.

The wine stayed on the skins for fifteen days which is on the longer side. Between the slow-and-steady fermentation characteristics of BDX and the high brix must, we had bubbles for most of that time. As fermentation neared a close, I was less than worried about oxidation because of all of the high tannin, air hungry dormant yeast, and the remaining CO2 in saturation.

I pressed the wine in a small basket press and kept separate the free-run and press-run wine. This gives more blending options later on, as the hard press wine can be substantially more intense. After racking off of the gross-lees, I kicked off malolactic fermentation with CH16 which does well in harsh conditions and produces very low histamine compared to many other strains. For some, this may reduce or eliminate the “red wine headache”.

The oak of choice was Cellar Science – French Medium Toast. I generally prefer French Oak over American Oak for big red wines. American Oak can dominate a little too much, where French Oak can create structure and complexity without stepping on the varietal aromas.

This wine went into bottle in November 2021 and is just coming of age now. This may be the first of many Valentine’s Days that the 2020 Clone 15 Cab makes an appearance.

Whether it’s your preference to stay in or life is getting in the way of a night out, these food and wine pairings are sure to make for a memorable evening at home! If you have any all-star food and wine pairings, please share in the comments below! Happy Valentine's Day!

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