We all know that food and wine were meant to be together, but not all combinations are ideal. It can be quite daunting to try to find that “perfect pair”, but here are some basics guidelines:
Match the overall quality and intensity of the food and wine
Decide whether to complement or contrast the flavors
- Wine and food from the same region are usually complementary
Acidity in wine can cut through fatty foods and balance out saltiness
- High tannin wines can over power delicate flavors, but also cuts through fatty foods
- Spicy food can be alleviated with a sweet wine, while high tannins will increase the heat sensation
I was able to put these ideas to the test the other night in my sommelier class with seven different pairings.
- Goat Cheese with 2015 Cailbourdin Pouilly Fumé, AOC Loire Valley, France
- This pairing neutralizes some of the acidity in both the cheese and the wine, making the cheese seem even creamier.
- Grilled Chicken with 2013 Faiveley Mercurey, AOC Blanc Clos Rochette, France
- The light oak on this Chardonnay accentuates the grilled flavor on the chicken.
- Duck Breast with 2014 Lynmar Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley AVA, California
- The acidity cuts through the fattiness of the duck and the earthiness of the Pinot complements the gamey flavor of the duck.
- Roast Pork with 2011 Rocca di Castagnoli Chianti Classico, DOCG Tuscany, Italy
- The fruit in the wine brought out some nice flavor in the pork.
- Seared Ham with 2015 J.H. Selbach Riesling Spätlese, QmP Mosel, Germany
- The subtle sweetness of the wine was delicious with the salty ham.
- Foie Gras with 2009 Castelnau de Suduiraut Sauternes, AOC Bordeaux, France
- This sweet wine brings out some of the saltiness of the foie, and the foie balanced out the sweetness of the wine.
- Roquefort NV Graham’s Six Grapes Ruby Port, Porto DOC, Portugal
- Another sweet-salty combination, that smoothed out the blue cheese and highlighted the richness of the port.
Overall, each person has slightly different tastes, but when you do find a “perfect pair”, it is delicious.
The more I learn about wine, the more that I want to know. Thus, I have decided to take my wine education up a notch, and I have enrolled in the Intensive Sommelier Training Program at the International Culinary Center in NYC. This is a 17 week program that prepares students to take the Certified Sommelier Examination, administered by the Court of Master Sommeliers. This is the second of four examinations that are required to become a Master Sommelier. There are only 236 Master Sommeliers in the world, and all are highly regarded as wine and service experts. There is an excellent documentary called Somm that presents the extreme dedication and rigorous study that is required of four men aspiring to achieve the level of Master. At this point, I will be more than thrilled to pass the Certified Examination in the fall, but I have lots of studying to do between now and then. I hope to continue blogging as time permits and to share some of my newfound wine knowledge, so stay tuned!
The first Friday in May is International Sauvignon Blanc day, so here’s a little background to help you prepare for the festivities.
Sauvignon Blanc is a white grape that originated in France, where it is still widely planted in the Loire Valley and Bordeaux . However, it has also become popular in many New World wine regions, such as Chile, South Africa, and California, but especially New Zealand, where it has become their most widely planted grape.
Sauvignon Blanc is a dry, white wine, with high acidity. It is often described as crisp and refreshing, and it is one of my favorite wines for summer. I find Sauvignon Blanc easy to drink on its own, but with its herbal and mineral qualities, it also makes an excellent pairing for fresh vegetables, salads, fish/seafood, sushi, and raw oysters.
Common fruit flavors for Sauvignon Blanc are lime (and other citrus), honeydew melon, green apple, and peach. Additionally, Sauvignon Blanc is known for strong non-fruit flavors such as fresh grass, bell pepper, and chalky minerals.
April 17th was designated as Malbec World Day in 2011 by Wines of Argentia to commemorate the day in 1853, when president Domingo Faustino Sarmiento declared his mission to revive and expand the Argentinian wine market. Sarmiento sought the expertise of a French soil expert, Michel Pouget, who brought over a selection of vines, including some Malbec. In France, Malbec was mainly used for blending, because the thin-skinned grapes were highly susceptible to frost, disease and rot. However, in the drier climate of Mendoza, Argentina, the Malbec vines thrived. The warmth in Argentina brought out a more fruit-forward flavor in the wines, in contrast to the strong tannins of the French Malbecs. For many years, the Malbec varietal was only common within Argentina, but in the early 2000s, the popularity started to spread due to its easy drinkability and bargain price. Malbec wine is often described as both juicy, with flavors of cherries, plums, and berries (blackberries/raspberries), and bold, with flavors like smoke/tobabbo, leather, and black pepper. Despite their thin skin, Malbec grapes are a dark purple color, which leads to nearly opaque wine with a deep purple/red color. Malbecs pair well with earthy or smokey foods (BBQ anyone?) or strong flavors, like funky cheese. Happy Malbec World Day!
Besides helping with the harvest at Viña Alpa, I took advantage of my time in Chile to visit several other wineries: Viña Cousiño Macul, Concha y Toro, and Kingston Family Vineyards. The first two were just outside of Santiago in the Maipo Valley, and the third was in the Casablanca Valley. The Maipo Valley was one of the first wine regions in Chile, and it is known for Cabernet Sauvignon. This is the specialty of Cousiño Macul, and their Cabernet Sauvignon is highly regarded throughout the world.
Both Cousiño Macul and Concha y Toro are old vineyards that were started in the 1800s and have continued to grow and expand. Today, Concha y Toro is the largest wine producer in Chile and is actually one of the largest in the world. I visited the original Maipo facility, but they now have vineyards throughout Chile.
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
Concho Y Toro
The third vineyard, Kingston Family Vineyard, is a much smaller vineyard in the Casablanca Valley that has only been in the wine business since the late 1990s. The Casablanca Valley had been established as a wine region for white grapes, especially Sauvignon Blanc, but Kingston partnered with some Californian vineyards and brought Pinot Noir to the region.
These three vineyards were all quite different and provided a nice intro to the breadth of the Chilean wine industry. Chile has 12 wine regions, with a huge variation in climate and soil, so there is still so much more to see, and I need to plan another trip someday . . .
I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Viña Alpa during the grape harvest. Viña Alpa is a small estate producer in the Coquimbo region of Chile. This region is mostly known for Pisco production, but Viña Alpa focuses on red grapes such as Syrah, Carménère, and also has some small plots of Grenache and Mourvèdre.
Viña Alpa participates in the World Wide Opportunities On Organic Farms program to recruit volunteers. For this year’s harvest, there were six of us volunteering. It was hard work, but the scenery was gorgeous. We worked up and down the rows to hand snip the grape bunches off of the vine. As we collected the grapes, the full buckets were transported up to the barn, where they were destemmed and crushed. The juice and skins were funneled directly into tanks to begin fermenting.
Winemaker Arnaud Faupin shared his expertise with us and taught us how to monitor the fermentation by measuring the temperature and the density. The vineyard is organic and the wine-making is done with minimal use of electricity and machinery. The results of this artisanal process are unique and delicious small batch wines, only available in Chile.
Pisco is a brandy made by distilling grapes. The brandy is produced in Peru and the northern regions of Chile and is most often made from the Pedro Jiménez, Torontel or Muscat grapes. Chilean Pisco is usually aged in oak for several years, while most Peruvian Pisco is bottled straight out of the still. There is a debate between the two countries as to who makes the better Pisco, as well as who can lay claim to the Pisco Sour as their national cocktail. The recipe for a Chilean Pisco Sour is quite simple: pisco, lemon juice, and sugar, shaken vigorously with crushed ice, and optional bitters. The Peruvian version uses lime juice and bitters, as well as an egg white for froth. Although, I have not been to Peru, there are many Peruvian restaurants in Chile, so I able to try both styles… They are both refreshing and perfect as an aperitif. However, I slightly prefer the Chilean style, without the egg-white foam. ¡Salud!