What Wine Goes With Octopus? A Sardinian Investigation #ItalianFWT

Octopus
I love octopus as a menu item in restaurants and often order it, but I’ve never attempted it at home. After a call to our local Coastal Seafoods, where the fishmonger assured me I could handle it, I was all in.  Maybe you will be too!  If you have enjoyed calamari, you should try octopus, and baby octopus is the perfect way to start.

Apertivo time with baby octopus in a garlic-tomato sauce

Apertivo time with baby octopus in a garlic-tomato sauce

Sardinia and #ItalianFWT
This month, our #ItalianFWT group is virtually traveling to the island of Sardegna (Sardinia), far into the Mediterranean Sea.  Hard to believe it’s still part of Italy! Anyway, with all that coastline, I thought I could surely find a great octopus dish to try. And, of course, a nice selection of new wines to pair with it.

Sardinia is so far away from the remainder of Italy. map courtesy of nicks.com.au

Sardinia is so far away from the remainder of Italy. map courtesy of nicks.com.au

I understand there are fabulous beaches in many parts of Sardegna.  If you look at the satellite photo below, you’ll see that Sardegna also has verdant green interior and even some mountain peaks covered with snow, even in the summertime.

Sardinia from above, intriguing...

Sardinia from above, beaches to snow covered mountains, intriguing… image courtesy of ESA/NASA

Sardinian Wines for Octopus
Sardinian wines use grapes familiar and less so. For whites, Vermentino is common.  Lucky for us foreigners, the grape name is used in at least some of the DOC designations on the island.  Another typical white wine is made from the autochthonous grape Nuragus.  I’ve never heard of that one!

The most common red wine is labeled “Cannonau”. Seems unusual at first until you find out Cannonau is another name for Grenache, used in wines all over Europe.  Carignan is also made, called Carignano here. Last, we also found red wine made from the Monica grape, purported to be a lighter bodied red.

Vermentino di Sardegna

Labeled with the grape name, this is Vermentino di Sardegna DOC

Cantina Santa Maria La Palma “Aragosta” Vermentino di Sardegna DOC 2014 ($14 at France 44)
Eye: Clear, light straw yellow in color.
Nose: Very nice crisp floral notes, and very clean smelling.
Mouth: Medium body with crisp acidity but not all the way to tart. While crisp, this Vermentino had a bit more body than those from cooler regions of Italy.

First white wine from the Nuragus grape. what's that??

First white wine from the Nuragus grape. what’s that??

Argiolas Nuragus di Sardegna DOC 2012 ($17 at Solo Vino Wines)
Eye: Deep yellow in color
Nose: Rich, not oaky but a very rich nose
Mouth: Again, not buttery but definitely rich and full bodied, implies a buttery character.
I didn’t love it at first, but it grew on me.  Retains good acidity.  Nice replacement for a full bodied Chardonnay, and what a beautiful color!

Cannonau (Grenache)

Red wine with seafood is very typical in Italy, especially when tomatoes are involved. Here it’s Cannonau (Grenache)

Argiolas “Costera” Cannonau di Sardegna DOC 2010 ($13 at Sunfish Cellars)
Eye: Clear, medium dark red color with bluish edge.
Nose: Ripe and full on the nose, deep red fruit with some spicy herbal notes.
Mouth: Luscious and ripe, full bodied. No real vanilla notes, but obvious use of oak.

The Octopus flavoring is dominated by tomatoes, garlic and super bright acidity of the red wine vinegar

The Octopus flavoring is dominated by tomatoes, garlic and super bright acidity of the red wine vinegar

Wine Pairing Results with Polpo Agliata
Baby octopus in a tomato/garlic/red wine vinegar sauce makes a very flavorful bruschetta topping at apertivo time. I use homemade red wine vinegar which is very intense in flavor, and I may have added a bit more than needed, as it dominated the flavor of the dish. Still, it was fun and refreshing on a hot summer day.

How about the wines?  Initially put-off by the Nuragus, we didn’t try it with the food on day one.  The Vermentino was very nice with the octopus bruschetta as its medium body yet crisp acidity stood up to the tart vinegar & garlic sauce and provided a fresh palate cleansing finish.

Italians never hesitate to pair red wine with seafood, however this particular Cannonau wasn’t perfect with the octopus. The wine was quite ripe and rich and the contrast with the tart, bright acidity from the red wine vinegar just didn’t seem right.  We enjoyed the Cannonau more with grilled red meat the next day.

We ruled it out on day 1, but the Nuragus was the best wine pairing.  Full body was the key.

We ruled it out on day 1, but the Nuragus was the best wine pairing. Full body was the key.

We had leftover octopus on day two, and the surprise wine pairing winner was the Nuragus di Sardegna we had passed over on day one.  Its full body stood up best to the intense flavors in the octopus, while it still possessed plenty of fresh palate cleansing ability at the finish. Lesson: give the wine a chance!

Nuragus di Sardegna

Winner of the wine pairing showdown was the come-from-behind Nuragus di Sardegna

Interested in more Sardinian Cooking?
There aren’t very many Sardinian region cookbooks floating around, but this one is packed with good ideas.  I adapted the octopus dish from a recipe in this book.  You may also find other variations by searching online.

The Sardinian Cookbook by Viktorija Todorovska

This cookbook is full of great ideas for Sardinian dishes.  Now I need to find some bottarga

This cookbook is full of great ideas for Sardinian dishes. Now I need to find some bottarga

Other Italian Food, Wine & Travel Posts #ItalianFWT

If you see this early enough, join us on Saturday August 1st on Twitter at #ItalianFWT. We’re live from 10-11 am CDT. Take a look at what our other group members have posted for your Sardegna entertainment:

Vino Travels – The Native Grapes of Sardinia with Argiolas Cannonau
Italophia – How I was “Swept Away” in Sardinia
Enofylz – Sardinia Style Seafood Paella and Cantina di Gallura Canayli Vermentino #ItalianFWT
Vino in Love – Exploring Sardinian Wine
Rockin Red Blog – Mountainous Food & Wine of Sardegna
Confessions of a Culinary Diva – The Food & Wine of Sardegna
Cooking Chat – Summer Spaghetti with Garlicky Shrimp and a Vermentino
Culinary Adventures with Camilla – Grano Saraceno Risotto con Funghi e Miele

Polpo Agliata = Octopus in Garlic Sauce

Note: sized for sharing as an apertivo portion. Serve by itself or toast some baguette slices and enjoy the octopus as bruschetta.

Recipe adapted from The Sardinian Cookbook by Viktorija Todorovska

Ingredients

  • 1 lb. frozen baby octopus
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • 5 garlic cloves, smashed, then chopped finely
  • 8 sundried tomatoes (dehydrated), soaked in hot water to soften, then finely chopped
  • 1 – 14 oz. can of whole tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Instructions

  • In a stockpot much taller than you need, bring 3 quarts of salted water to a boil
  • Add the octopus (frozen is ok), bring to a boil then lower the heat to a simmer
  • Simmer the octopus for at least 1 1/2 hours.  There will be plenty of white foam that forms, hence the reason for the taller pot.
  • Drain the pot and empty the octopus onto a cutting board.
  • Cut the octopus into bite size pieces, saving a few for garnish if you like (not for the faint of heart)
  • Put the octopus in the refrigerator to cool.
  • Add the EVOO to a saute pan over medium heat, add the garlic and saute briefly, don’t allow it to brown.
  • Add the sundried tomatoes and continue to saute for another minute or two
  • Add the canned tomatoes
  • Add the red wine vinegar, bring to a gentle boil and cook for 10-15 minutes to allow  the sauce to thicken.  Cool to room temperature
  • Add the octopus and mix with the sauce.  Cover and chill for several hours to allow flavors to meld.  Even better on day two!

Comments
10 Responses to “What Wine Goes With Octopus? A Sardinian Investigation #ItalianFWT”
  1. Great adventure this month! I was wondering what you would feature. Your wines sound interesting. We were 50/50 on our wines – like the white and the high-end red, the two Dolia reds didn’t wow us. Excellent use of leftovers too!

  2. I like your adventurous palate, trying octopus! I had similar notes on this Vermentino, including having more body than some other crisp Italian white–worked with my dish as well as yours it seems.

  3. Seems we both tried Costera Cannonau. Good value, but I imagine it needed something heavier than the octopus. Love the creativity of this dish.

  4. How interesting! The baby octopi are very cute! I just boiled up a small – but not baby – one in the kitchen myself. We bought it fresh at the local coop, it’s super easy to cook and not at all stinky. I just prepare it with potatoes and parsley though. Unfortunately we don’t have any sardinian wine at home to try out your pairings – being in Tuscany, that’s what’s in the pantry!

  5. A wonderful read Jeff. When I saw the title of your post my first thought was “depends on how you prepare it” I can definitely see grilling it taking the pairing to a red wine. I too have never heard of Nuragus. Great looking dish!

  6. vinoinlove says:

    I never tried Octopus with Cannonau. Thank you so much for this wine and food pairing! It sounds lovely, Jeff!
    Cheers!

  7. mimi says:

    What fun! I would drink just about anything in order to have octopus! Looks like you did a great job with it!

  8. culinarycam says:

    I absolutely love your post, Jeff! And I must track down the Aragosta since both you and David featured it. Funny story: I laugh every time I see the word aragosta. When my husband and I were on Ustica (an island off the coast of Sicily) he got sunburnt so badly the guys on the boat were calling him aragosta. They didn’t realize that I spoke Italian!

  9. Good job exploring a new make at home dish! I love your sense of adventure!

  10. Love Coastal Sesfood – great resource in Mpls! Amazing recipes and pairings – well done – because it made me hungry. Xoxo

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