With a little prodding from Kurtis, I began thinking about apt wine pairings for the kinds of Ukrainian dishes that my grandparents used to cook. Specifically perogies (or what most Ukrainians refer to as varenyky, and my family called petahe), which is a pocket of dough filled with potatoes and/or cheese. Some parallels can be drawn with Asian dumplings, although perogies tend to have more dairy flavours (think butter, cheddar cheese, and sour cream), and they often have a little sweetness from being served with sautéed or caramelized onions. In some instances they are simply boiled and served with toppings, and other times they are sautéed with butter until golden.
Because this wasn't a pairing I felt comfortable speculating on, I packed my perogies in tinfoil, and set up a tasting at the restaurant with the full arsenal of the wine list. A few things played out just as I expected. First, nearly all of the reds were poor matches. A Bourgueil Cabernet Franc worked relatively well, which I attribute to the acidity in the wine—the sour cream's acidity killed any wine without a comparable level of zip. Second, a Riesling came out on top from the candidates in the white lineup. The one I tasted with was Charles Bakers' 2014 Ivan Vineyard, which is on the drier and lighter end of where his wines tend to be. The wine was cleansing and the citrus notes were amplified; yet it didn't overpower the relatively straightforward potato and cheese notes of the perogies. Two pairings that worked well, which I hadn't really thought of, were sake and fino sherry. The sake was a bit overpowering and lacked some acidity, but it echoed the creaminess in the perogies. The nuttiness of the sherry matched the notes of the cheese. One pairing I expected to work better than it did, was sparkling wine. Although, I tasted with a leaner cava, and perhaps something toastier like a rich Champagne would have worked.
I'm starting to feel a bit predictable in saying this, but there's a reason so many sommeliers love Riesling. There's versatility innate to the grape, particularly because of its natural high acid and its affinity for off-dry sweetness levels. For a couple Rieslings on My Wine Canada that are hard to beat (and will pair well with perogies), check out the Tantalus 2014 Riesling from the Okanagan, or the Tawse 2013 Quarry Road Riesling from Niagara.
Jake Skakun is a writer and sommelier from Vancouver, currently living in Toronto. He can be found most days pulling corks and twisting caps at the Black Hoof. He Tweets and Instagrams @jakeskakun.