The ideal wine for pesto


One of us has a summer garden that produces basil. One of the most classic uses of basil, and one of our favorites, is pesto.

A combination of basil, garlic, olive oil, pine nuts and cheese, pesto was created in Italy’s northwest Genoa region. There are some variations that use olives, coriander, arugula, peppers and the like, but we are purists.

Our preferred recipe is the one in the The New York Times Jewish Cookbook: 1 cup of loosely packed basil leaves, ½ cup pine nuts, 2 cloves of garlic, ¾ cup grated Parmesan cheese, all of which is blended in a food processor until smooth, and then slowly add a ½ cup of good olive oil until it becomes a thick puree.

The green and pungent flavors of pesto make selecting a matching wine a bit of a challenge. Ideally the wine should have bright fruit flavors, and good acidity to show through the boldness of the pesto.

An especially good choice is a sauvignon blanc that has a bit of its own acidic zing and fresh herbaciousness, like the kosher Goose Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2012 ($20). The Goose Bay exhibits citrus and melon aromas along with grassy, lemon, grapefruit and gooseberry flavors within a framework of crisp acidity and minerals along with a lengthy finish.

A terrific summer wine that would perfectly accompany a pesto pasta salad, it can also be enjoyed with grilled chicken and fish. Spirits-wise, we thought we’d return to American whiskey. In the past 15 years, bourbon production has shot up more than 150 percent, and by the end of 2013 there were 5,294,988 barrels of whiskey aging in Kentucky. Nor is this boom limited to Kentucky. In Tennessee, for example, there are more than 2.2 million barrels aging at Jack Daniel’s.

It is undoubtedly currently a great era for bourbon and American whiskey generally – both for consumers and producers. As bourbon industry journalist Charles K. Cowdery noted, however, there is a “cautionary tale” to be found in the 1970, 1975 and 1977 dates.

As Chuck put it: “American whiskey sales began to trend down in the late 1960s after growing steadily since Prohibition’s end. Although production began to decline after 1970, it didn’t decline as much as sales, so inventories kept growing until 1977. This created a whiskey glut that lasted for approximately 20 years.” American whiskey producers, not just in Kentucky, recall these years with some measure of dread.

From about 1980 to 2000, the glut years, nothing was selling well. The industry was not doing well. Of course, both gluts and shortages are natural, even inevitable, in an industry that has to predict future demand over a five-, 10-, or 15-year period.

Consumers often pine for gluts, as price wars are typically an early response to diminishing demand. But a prolonged glut is bad for consumers. Producers are in the business to make profit and so tend to switch from less profitable to more profitable activities.

During the last three years, the eight largest U.S. whiskey producers have announced more than $430 million in reinvestment in distillery operations and expansion; industry-wide capacity may well double by 2020, and production will likely grow more than 50 percent. Consider a classic, inexpensive standby like Jim Beam.

Jim Beam White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey (40 percent abv; $15) is a medium-bodied, young whiskey, probably around 4 years old (this is hinted at by the pale amber color). Yet it lacks the harsh edge and fiery burn that is usually associated with young whiskey.

A bit dry and orange-fruit-like on the nose with maybe a hint of vanilla and caramel, the whiskey has a slightly syrupy mouth-feel, with lovely notes of buttered toast, hints of brown sugar, subtle cinnamon and whispers of vanilla.

The Jim Beam wild yeast strain gives this whiskey an odd, though enjoyable, sour funky or gamey sort of finish – but in a good way.

White Label is straightforward and uncomplicated yet versatile, as enjoyable straight as it is as a mixer. Delivers well above its weight!


Never miss a story.
Sign up for our newsletter.
Email Address


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here