Archive for February, 2017


Fun insight into pairing wines to a menu

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Again, I believe we as an industry need to spend more time talking about pairing wine & food.  There is never one answer, so dialogue to me just helps imagine the possibilities.  Here is a menu that was just sent to me.  Here is how I approached this challenge.

Another facet of this dinner which should be mentioned & considered is that this is an upscale dinner at an upscale venue.

Well, here goes……….

Spinach Pappardelle–with cider braised pork belly, butternut squash puree, Flathead cherry reduction & a hazelnut-parmesan crisp

So, the first aspects I would notice, wine pairing wise, cider braising, the butternut squash puree & the cherry reduction adds sweetness to the dish.  Therefore, eventhough there is pork belly, my knee jerk reaction would be to look to German “brown” bottle Riesling, at least spätlese quality & probably with some age.   The real key is to find one which has less than 10% alcohol.  The wine’s slight sweetness will help mitigate the dish’s sweetness & if we do one such as from Weingut Gunderloch, the wine’s innate stoniness (from the red slate soils), especially more noticeable with some bottle age, will help accent & uplift the dish’s real savoriness.  Plus, by serving an aged one, the once apparent sweetness will have changed into a more tactile, viscous kind of mouthfeel AND therefore seem less sweet.  Now, the challenge here really is, will the attendees dig have a Riesling with a star chef’s food & during the colder Winter months?  Probably not.  They probably are expecting a red wine.  So….let’s look down that wine road & see if we can come up with something workable.  One thing for sure, we need to minimize the tannin & alcohol levels in the paired wines because of the dish’s sweetness.  I would also hope that we could adjust some of the dish’s components, such as adding some kind of stock to the cider braising liquid, perhaps either char, smoke or grill the butternut squash before pureeing it & add some red wine and/or stock to the cherry reduction.  So, I am sure some would think of an Italian red wine of some sorts.  In most cases, however, I believe the acidity & tannins would be too hard.  Consider instead a Carignane based red, such as the Maxime Magnon “La Démarrante” from Hautes Corbières in southern France.  I think the wine’s wonderful perfume & aromatics would first of all add to the pairing.  Secondly, I am sure Magnon uses some carbonic maceration to make it this wine, which in addition to adding a different dimension to the aromatics, it also enhances the lively, delicious fruit without taking away from the terroir or integrity AND keeping the tannins & alcohol lower.  Lastly, the wine’s innate stoniness would also connect with the earthy, stony qualities of the dish.

Vegetable Consommé–with nutmeg dumpling, carrot, leek, cauliflower & sliced radish

I know some people would immediately say rosé .  If you take this route, then I would recommend a lighter, more ethereal style, like My Essential Rosé from Master Sommelier Richard Betts.  (as an update, the rosé we actually went with the 2015 Eric Chevalier Pinot Noir Rosé, from France’s Loire Valley, which worked wonderfully).  Soups serve hot, can accentuate the tannins.  If this were a meat based soup, that might be different.  The route to consider is doing a light, wonderfully aromatic white wine such as the Birichino Malvasia Bianca.  If this is the case, I would ask to garnish the soup with some kind of light herb nuance.  You will see how the perfume of the Malvasia & the herb connect & create a wonderful synergy.

Certified Angus Beef, Prime New York Stripwith baby carrot, duck fat roasted Sunset fingerling potato, chimichurri & cherry bomb radish

Not only does this dish sound delicious, it is also one that could work a wide range of red wines.  Choose your foil–New World Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Sirah, Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec, Cabernet Franc & a host of Old World red wines from places such as Bordeaux, Bandol, Piemonte, Tuscany, Priorat & Cahors just to name a few.  Because at our VINO restaurant, our chimichurri is bay leaf driven, my first choice would be a slightly aged Old World Syrah based red.  The one that immediately comes to mind is the 2005 Clape Cornas.  While Thierry Allemand is generally recognized as the current generation headliner from the Cornas appellation, I really love the wildly rustic, soulful renditions from Clape & Verset.  And, it really is that gamey/feral/green peppercorn/andouille sausage nuances which is why it was selected in this instance.  Furthermore, the 2005 still has a very youthful, virile core & structure which can readily handle this dish, yet with development & a rounder edge because of the 11 years of bottle age.  I had also considered the 2005 Domaine Grange des Pères from southern France as another viable option.  A blend of Syrah & Mourvedre with smaller amounts of Cabernet Sauvignon & Counoise, I look at this wine as a wild, rustic thoroughbred with lots to say, but in a much more civil, classy manner than Cornas.  As with the Cornas, we look at the 2005, because it still has mojo to its core, but with much more harmony because of the 11 years of bottle age.

Dulcey Moussewith salted caramel sauce, dark chocolate flourless cake & feulletine crunch

Our first choice was the 2012 Domaine La Tour Vieille Banyuls “Rimage”–a fortified, old vine Grenache (10% Carignane) grown  down in southern France, roughly 2 kilometers from the Spanish border.  This wine was seemingly crafted for desserts like this.  We suggest you serve it well chilled.


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Some further thoughts on wines & foods

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I find that so exciting that more and more people than ever ask me for advice on what wine to serve with their meal, whether in their home or dining out.  Not only can wine make food taste better, but food can make wine taste better too. And, for the adventuresome, the possibilities seem endless.

Here are some ideas which I hope will spur further interest into this subject.

2014 Chateau des Deux Rocs Rose–is a dry, fairly masculine, earth nuanced pink wine from the hills of southern France near the Mediterranean.  One can smell the wild countryside that surrounds the vineyards which adds to the interestingness of this wine. Where many people are still quite apprehensive of wines colored pink, if you closed your eyes and then tasted it, I think most tasters would think it is white, perhaps with a little more stuffing and mojo. The role at the dinner table I am really hoping wine lovers will consider, is keeping the palate refreshed and attentive, just as cranberry does at the Thanksgiving feast.

Consider, for instance serving this wine with Roasted Bone Marrow—simply roasted with salt, pepper and bread crumbs. At VINO, we serve it with roasted Roma tomatoes, braised short rib ragout and Nalo Farms greens tossed with lemon vinaigrette. Although we originally added this dish to our menu for red wines because of richness and savoriness, I now find roses like this actually a more interesting pairing.

Another dish one could have fun with by serving this wine would be octopus marinated in olive oil, rosemary and garlic and then braised in red wine to tender. At VINO, we season with cumin, cinnamon and extra virgin olive oil before serving in a ham hock stew. The wine really works its magic with the octopus, the stew is optional. As a side note I love octopus and regularly enjoy roses as long as there is no Asian inspired qualities to the preparation.

For more comfort, homey foods, these kinds of pink wines also work with all kinds of pizzas, especially those using tomato sauce bases. In addition, try wines like this with richer soups such as oxtail, pig’s feet or beef luau (no coconut please).  I also greatly enjoy well chilled roses for the barbecue occasions. They help off set the heat and certainly quench the thirst, all at a reasonable price.

2014 Maior de Mendoza Albarino “Fulget”–is a wonderfully perfumed, dry, captivating white wine from Rias Baixas, Spain. I adore the wine’s enticing, exotic aromatics which is greatly accented by the uplifting edge the minerality adds. From my point of view, these kinds of really fragrant nuances uplift foods, just as fresh herbs would. And, to make a pairing with this wine even better, one just has to add fresh herbs to the dish, as they will just connect and create great synergy and electricity which will surprise you.

Consider, for instance, just seasoning and then searing a fish like mahimahi in a very hot pan with a bit of olive oil, 2 minutes on one side, and another 2 minutes on the other (time is dependent on how thick the fillet is and how hot the pan is). Set the fish aside, deglaze the pan with white wine, add some lemon, reduce and just melt in some butter and finish with a generous sprinkling of diced fresh herbs. To make this an even more eye opening experience, now try this dish with a Californian Chardonnay, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and this wine. Most tasters will be familiar with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc and what they do with foods. I am hoping, though, you will have a whole new experience when the fresh herbs connect with the Albarino and the wine’s lemony edge cuts through the fishiness and oils of the fish. And, when one considers the price, hopefully, you will add yet another wine to your dining table repertoire.  One could easily do similar kinds of pairings with shrimp, scallop, crab and lobster dishes. The key is really the fresh herb sprinkle and no oriental ingredients.

2013 Sella Mosca Cannonau de Sardegna Riserva”–is a wonderfully delicious, wildly rustic Grenache based red wine from the picturesque isle of Sardegna, located off the west coast of Italy. Here is yet another “country” styled red wine, which greatly over delivers for the dollar.  Not only is this wine so tasty and interesting, it can work with a wide range of foods because of its lush, rounder edges. You will find “country” styled wines like this really do have an amazing affinity with a wide range of foods.

Consider comfort foods like meat loaf, red pasta dishes and pizza at home and roast chicken like we do at VINO, with a Tuscan bean stew or with savory pork chops dishes are also pairings worth experiencing.   At home, we like to barbecue sausages and serve them with roasted red and yellow peppers (a dash of red wine deglazed and a bit of fresh thyme) with wines like this.   In each case, I would recommend you stick the bottle in the refrigerator for 8 minutes or so, before serving.

Along the Mediterranean basin, having wines with these kinds of foods is a way of life. Hopefully, this will help encourage you down that road. I really think one can have a lot of fun and interesting experiences pairing wines and foods, without a lot of fanfare.

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