More times than not, when I plan a dinner it’s just one thing – a wine, a new recipe, a particular craving, an ingredient – that dictates the vector on which the meal eventually travels. In this case, it was an ingredient, and a HIGHLY seasonal one, sour green plums, often seen labeled as Greengage plums, which in my experience seem to come from either Oregon and/or New Zealand. These, which Jen picked up for me at Ak Turkish market in Paterson, were billed simply as “sour plums”, as well as a report of some associated Turkish language signage…no idea.
In Georgia, these sour green plums are strongly associated with one particular and beloved preparation: Tkemali. Tkemali (not a typo.) is a spicy/sour/savory sauce that features among an array of seasonings, an herb that in Georgian is called ombalo which in English turns out to be a rare herb called pennyroyal that is fairly easy to turn up at a good herbalist. And a dipping dish of tkemali is more often than not found sitting next to a plate of its favorite table mate: some crusty-fried wedges of khachapuri, a pan-cooked baking soda dough completely enclosing a hash of cheese and egg. Khachapuri is to Georgia as pizza is to Italy.
So with the Khachapuri/tkemali combo as the appetizer I spun out a somewhat unintentionally meatless trio of small red beans with sweet brown spices, pomegranate juice, and onions, served with slices of feta, a Georgian egg salad made with ground walnuts and dill called azelila, and then a Georgian-esque salad of my own creation made with boiled potatoes, Persian cucumbers, and chopped celery tops with an oil anvinegar dressing, and Turkish pide bread that isn’t really like any Georgian bread I know (they’re quite distinctive), but it was in the freezer, and we like it a lot. I couldn’t get a hold of any decent Georgian wine, so I went with a big, juicy Sangiovese which I thought would be, and was indeed a good stand-in for a Georgian Saperavi.
Vignamaggio Toscana Sangiovese IGT “Il Morino” 2007
Slightly clouded medium purple garnet color. Countrified nose of blackberry, plastic bandages, cocoa powder, black licorice, cigar smoke, and brook water. The wine enters the palate with big, smooth, and rustic cherry fruit, evolving into a chewy, spikey acidity, rounded and broad tannins carrying flavors of birch bark, leather,and tart cranberry. The finish is warm and savory.