OFF THE CLOCK: Kid Food and Carbonic Maceration with Tona Palomino

By Erin Drain in Food on Mar 8, 2013 10:20PM

2013_3_8_Tona.jpg It's not just a problem for those in the restaurant business: working people and people with families want to come home and make something easy to eat. What's more, they want to drink something easy. For Tona Palomino, a WD-50 veteran and now beverage director at Wicker Park hotspot Trenchermen, who has two young sons and a wife who teaches school, this couldn't be more true.

In our last Off the Clock, we looked at what a sommelier might pair with comfort food, something he might eat after a long night on the floor. But for Palomino, he's got the picky discerning palates of grammar schoolers to consider; like most kids their age, they love classics like grilled cheese and chicken nuggets. Hell, who doesn't? They're foods that are quick, simple, cost-effective, and make most people smile - all characteristics of the wines Tona recommends for this pairing. When it comes to wine, he wants ease, simplicity, and what he refers to as "friendliness." (Not surprising demands coming from someone who is frequently referred to in the industry as the "nicest guy in Chicago.")

Right now, he's on a carbonic maceration kick. A technique that originated in France's Beaujolais region, carbonic maceration involves starting the fermentation process before the grapes are crushed; this type of winemaking has become slightly trendy outside of France lately, and, without being too technical, results in what Palomino refers to as "easy drinking candy juice." What kid would turn that down?

At Trenchermen, Tona has added several wines made using carbonic maceration to his list, all of them quite different, but with the common denominator of quaffability. These wines are light in spirit and body, and can be served as an aperitif, but also stand up to the diverse menu and desires of his customers. One unusual bottling is the 2011 Volandera from La Calandria ($12 a glass), a tiny project made by two friends in Spain's Navarra region. It stands out amongst regular wine bottles with its quirky label and swing top closure, but the flavor profile makes everyone happy - and for Palomino, triggers a beloved childhood memory of berry-flavored paletas sold in a candy store just on the other side of a park in his home town of Mexico City. Called "vampires," they were made with blackberry jam, and had fruit flavors "so alive [they] seemed artificial." That's carbonic maceration in a nutshell.

Tona Palomino acknowledges that fine dining has done great things, turning food and wine pairing, at its best, "into an art form." But sometimes the best art is made with finger paint - and you know what? It tastes damn good with a side of pickle tots.