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Wine and Dine

This week: Salvadoran



Matching wine to cuisines it isn't traditionally drunk with--Caribbean, Latin American, Asian--is the focus of this periodic feature, in which we pick a BYO restaurant, sample a few dishes, and recommend some wines.

Izalco Restaurant

1511 W. Lawrence 773-769-1225

Pastelitos de masa (ground pork empanadas) 1, 3


Pupusas de masa con queso (cheese-filled pupusas) 2


Pupusas de masa con chicharron (pork-filled pupusas) 1, 3


Carne asada 3, 5


Camarones a la plancha (grilled shrimp over rice with lime) 4

Pollo guisado (chicken stew) 4


This cheerful and expansive Uptown dining room is one of the few in town serving Salvadoran cuisine. The specialties here are the pupusas, fried pockets of dough made from masa (corn flour) or harina de arroz (rice flour, for a slightly stiffer pancake). They're stuffed with beans, cheese, pork rinds, or the starchy vegetable loroco and accompanied by a huge bowl of tangy coleslaw and a dish of smoky chipotle-spiked salsa. Entrees--consisting mainly of familiar dishes like tamales and enchiladas--tend to be mild, often highlighted with a squeeze of lime and shake of salt, and most are served with roasted plantains, lending a sweet element. Wines need a good dose of acidity to stand up to the vinegar of the condiments and the citrus zing of lime. The consulting expert on this trip was R. Lee Schlesinger, a fermentation science specialist for the Skokie-based importer Winesellers.

1. Nonvintage Sokol Blosser Evolution (Oregon), $12.99-$13.99. Willamette Valley winegrower Sokol Blosser, one of the first in the region when it got its start in 1977, takes pride in using a sustainable agricultural loop, distributing by-products such as grape seeds and stems back into the soil rather than applying synthetic fertilizers. One of its more complex creations is this blend, which combines nine varieties of grapes with significantly different characteristics into a balanced, vibrant white wine. Pinot gris gives it a bouquet of tropical fruit; white Riesling lends flavors of honey and pear; and notes of melon and green apple come from pinot blanc. (Others in the mix include muscat, semillon, and gewurztraminer.) The wine has enough personality to be sipped alone or as an enhancement to a dish such as empanadas, bringing out the earthy flavors of the pork while cutting through the oil used for frying. It works similarly with the chicharron-stuffed pupusa, enhancing the corn flavor in the masa dough yet also standing up to the acidic coleslaw. (Binny's, Sam's, Wine Discount Center)

2. 2002 Te Kairanga Sauvignon Blanc (Martinborough, New Zealand), $14.99. This extremely small winery--with only 35 hectares (or about 85 acres) of established vines--is one of the largest in Martinborough and sits at the highest point of a particularly good piece of land. (It's also the one vintner on this list that is repped by Schlesinger's company.) This lively wine has a typical sauvignon blanc profile, combining flavors of passion fruit, asparagus, and grapefruit with a gooseberry aroma. The wine has a soft finish, but it lingers, and its almost effervescent fruitiness enhances the mild flavors of both the cheese and the masa dough. Top the pupusa with coleslaw and the wine becomes a bit mellower, but it stands up to the vinegar in the pickling liquid. (Sam's, Trotter's to Go)

3. 2000 Lynmar Pinot Noir (Sonoma County, California), $24.99-$29.99. The cool 2000 growing season in the Russian River Valley--the location of this small vineyard, which makes fewer than 1,000 cases of this wine a year--was just right for the finicky pinot noir grape, indigenous to the cooler climate of Burgundy. Compared to its French counterpart, this wine has a brighter fruit character and less complexity, partially due to the blending of juices from vines planted in the 70s with those planted in the last decade. Odors of vanilla and spice are a result of the wine's aging: 12 months in new oak. There's a silkiness to the finish, and when it's drunk with the mild pupusas, the wine's cherry flavors shine. Paired with the carne asada, it highlights the meat's garlic-and-herb marinade. (Binny's, Sam's)

4. 1998 Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc-Viognier (Napa Valley, California), $8.49. This blend of the classic northern Rhone Valley viognier grape and the Loire Valley chenin blanc grape (used in vouvray) makes for a unique, refreshing white with aromas of grapefruit, kiwi, white roses, and jasmine and flavors of melon, litchi, and pear. It has just enough acidity to give it a good, firm body, and the few years of age on this bottle add complexity, softening and blending the various flavors. The residual sugar works nicely with the sweetness of the shrimp, smoothing out the bitterness of the char-grilled exterior. With a squeeze of lime, the dish brings out the bright fruit flavors in the wine as well. The otherwise bland chicken stew came alive in the company of the wine. (Sam's)

5. 2000 Casa Silva Carmenere (Colchagua Valley, Chile), $7.99-$10.99. The carmenere was originally used to make Bordeaux, but these days it has earned acclaim as a stand-alone grape and grows mostly in Chile. It has rich red fruit similar to merlot, a hint of vanilla and roses, and flavors of cassis and black olives. But the tannic carmenere lacks merlot's velvety smoothness. Consumed with the marinated carne asada, it softens, allowing flavors of spice and black fruit to come forward. A bit of swirling in the glass does wonders for this initially tight wine. It's a food wine, no doubt, but with a potential for overpowering a more subtle dish than the garlicky carne asada. (Binny's, Chalet, Sam's, Wine Crier)

Binny's Beverage Depot 213 W. Grand, 312-332-0012

Chalet Wine & Cheese Shop 40 E. Delaware, 312-787-8555

Sam's Wines and Spirits 1720 N. Marcey, 312-664-4394

Trotter's to Go 1337 W. Fullerton, 773-868-6510

Wine Crier 2070 N. Clybourn, 773-404-8684

Wine Discount Center 1826 N. Elston, 773-489-3454

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