Wine Pairing Basics

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.

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  • 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.

Sauvignon Blanc Day on Friday

 

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.

 

Winery Visits – Chile

Besides helping with the harvest at Viña Alpa, I took advantage of my time in Chile to visit several other wineries: Viña Cousiño MaculConcha 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.

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 . . .

Chilean Wine Varietals

 

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Chile has a long history of wine production, dating back to the 16th century, when the Spanish  colonists brought vitis vinifer.  Later various French varieties were imported, and in the 20th century, Chile established itself as an important player in the global wine market.  Vineyards can be found throughout the country, growing both red and white grapes.  The most common varietals are:

  • Cabernet Sauvignon
  • Merlot
  • Chardonnay
  • Sauvignon Blanc
  • Carménère
  • Syrah
  • Pinot Noir
  • Carignan

Although Cabernet Sauvignon is the most widely planted grape,  Carménère has become the signature grape of Chile.  Originally a French variety, it was believed to have been lost during the  phylloxera epidemic in Europe, but was rediscovered in Chile in the 1990s.  You can read more about Carménère in last year’s April Grape of the Month post.

For more information about Chilean Wine…

http://www.seriouseats.com/2015/07/beginners-guide-to-chilean-wine.html

http://www.winesofchile.org/en/wineries-trade-ted

http://www.chilean-wine.com/chileanwinecountry/

http://www.jancisrobinson.com/learn/wine-regions/chile

http://www.winemag.com/gallery/understanding-chiles-wine-regions/

http://winefolly.com/review/the-best-wines-to-try-from-chile/

Tasting Menu at Semilla

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Last weekend I had the pleasure of enjoying a lovely tasting menu at Semilla, an 18 seat restaurant in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  The food was vegetable focused and delightfully inventive.  We added on the drink menu for the full experience.  The wines were impressive in age, variety, and suitability for the meal.  I was so busy enjoying the wonderful  wine and food that I did not take adequate notes or pictures, but here are a few highlights…

I was thrilled to start the meal with a 27 year old German Riesling (Wallufer Oberberg Kabinett Halbtrocken, J.B. Becker, 1990, Rheingau, Germany).  This is probably the oldest wine that I have drunk, and it was wonderful.  The aging really mellowed the sweetness and added depth to the wine, so it was perfect for the subtle, earthy sweetness of the Beet Tartare.  My favorite course of the evening was the salt-crusted sunchokes.  These were served with a Chardonnay (Les Ammonites, Domaine Buronfosse, 2014, Jura, France).  Although, I’m not always a fan of Chardonnay, this was unoaked and balanced out the saltiness of the dish quite nicely.  The meal finished off with two lovely desserts (and who doesn’t want  two desserts? ).   I’ve included the full menu below and would highly recommend an evening at Semilla for a night of creative and delicious dishes.

Menu from 2/2/17

Apple & Smoked Mozzarella Soup

Beet Tartare with Pickled Chanterelles & Whole Wheat Crackers

Salt Crusted Sunchokes with Fermented Ramp Aioli

Rice & Peas with Crab & Bergamot

Butternut Squash with Za’atar & Squash Vinegar

Celeriac Tart with Pickled Okra & Green Coriander Vinaigrette

Burnt Cabbage Roll with Preserved Lemon & Coffee Jus

Sunflower Seed Ice Cream with Meyer Lemon & Flowers

Angelica Semifreddo with Hazelnuts & Pickled Blueberries

Wine online

Wine clubs have been around for a while, and they only seem to be gaining in popularity.  As an obvious wino, I started receiving some targeted ads online for various wine subscription sites.  With the incentive of wine AND discount codes, I decided to try out a few…

Naked Wines funds independent winemakers and then sells those wines directly to their members.  I loved their mission and was happy to be investing in new winemakers; plus, there wines were delicious.  However, due to shipping restrictions to New York, I was only able to buy wines from domestic winemakers, which was disappointing.  Also, I had to order a full case (12 bottles) at a time, which was a bit more than I wanted to order on a regular basis. (No set price, pay by the bottle)

Naked Wines tasting notes:
Jacqueline Bahue Cabernet Franc
F. Stephen Miller Black Label
Cabernet Sauvignon Foothills Reserve
Bruno Chenin Blanc
Angels Reserve Merlot
JC Van Staden Pinot Noir
S&A Amador Touriga

VineBox is a monthly subscription that sends 3 pours of  wines from international wineries that are exclusively imported by Vinebox.  It was so convenient to have these individual pours around the house for those evenings when I didn’t want to open a full bottle. It also provided the opportunity to try some rather fancy wines. ($35/month)

Winc is a wine club that makes their own wines, sourced from small batch vineyards around the world.  I enjoyed the wide range of grape varietals, and they provided good tasting notes with videos. (No set price, pay by the bottle)

Winc tasting notes:
Supercluster
Porter& Plot Grenache Blanc
One From The Quiver Torrentes

Wine Awesomeness is another wine club.  Each month the box has a different theme or “adventure”.   They provide extensive notes, as well as suggested pairings and recipes and even music playlists. ($45/month)

Overall, the main perk to buying wine online was the availability of wine made by unique producers.  However, the shipping regulations and the need to sign for the packages cancelled out the convenience of delivery.  Lastly, I missed visiting my local wine shop(s), where I can attend tastings and talk with the staff, so for now, I’m cancelling my subscriptions.

 

December Grape of the Month – Cabernet

grape-of-the-month-decemberThere are two varietals known as Cabernet: Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc.  Cabernet Franc is the original Cab,  and Cab-Sauv is the result of a cross between Cabernet Franc and Sauvignon Blanc back in the 17th century.  Cabernet Franc has stayed predominantly in France, but Cabernet Sauvignon has spread far and wide to become one of the most widely planted red wine grapes in the world.   Both are usually high in tannins and acid, which make them good for aging. The dominant flavors in Cabernet Sauvignon are cherry and currant, as well as some vegetal notes such as bell pepper and mint. Cabernet Franc is most commonly used for blending in Red Bordeaux wines, where it brings flavors of strawberry and bell peppers and possibly a hint of violet and licorice.