Matches made in the glass

I have been doing a great deal of teaching this winter and there is one area where students have shown special interest: the domaine of food and wine matching.

One of the reasons for this interest is obvious:  my students need to understand the principles, and be able to apply those principles, if they are to pass their exams.  The other reason is, many of these students are front-line staff in upscale restaurants and they need to be able to advise their clients on the wines that will best match their entrée selections – happy customers make happy servers…

Most students understand the classic matches:  Sauternes with stilton cheese, Bordeaux red with prime rib, smoked salmon and Champagne, etc., but they don’t know the rationale for these matches.  Step outside the bounds of the classics and they are generally stumped.

The students I work with are not unique.  Most wine lovers have a small repertoire of food and wine matches they rely on – and the converse: food and wine mis-matches they avoid – but they often don’t have enough experience to go beyond the boundaries of their narrow range of proven matches.

As I teach this material I have found it best to assemble some simple rules to help guide me – and my students – through the amazing realm of matching possibilities.  The goal is to expand our horizons by experimenting and hopefully, in the process, conclude that food and wine, properly matched, can enhance the enjoyment of both.

First, some simple rules:

  • Match the body and/or richness of the food with the body of the wine (such as beef stew with a full-bodied, tannic Aussie Shiraz)
  • Combine food with wines that share the same flavour intensity (try spicy Mexican food with Argentinean Malbec, or spicy Asian food with a pungent Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc)
  • Acidic foods should be served with acidic wines (pasta in tomato sauce matched with a young Chianti Classico)
  • Match sweet foods with sweet wines (such as crème brulée with a chilled glass of Icewine or a Vin Doux Naturel made with Muscat)
  • Chewy meats should be matched with high-tannin wines to allow the protein to soften the tannins (beef brisket with Cabernet Sauvignon)
  • Salty foods (olives, certain cheeses, oysters, salted nuts) should be matched with sweet or acidic wines to enhance the food flavours (for instance, stilton cheese and Port, oysters and Muscadet)
  • Pair oily/fatty foods with acidic wines (e.g.  Wiener Schnitzel with Riesling, grilled salmon steak with Grüner Veltliner)

These are some simple rules and they work!

There is a theme to the rules: match weight of food with weight of wine, match intensity of food flavour with wines of similar flavour intensity. Once you have achieved this level of matching refine further to balance texture (e.g. chewy or oily), and other elements such as acidity and sweetness.

Acidity in wines triggers saliva flow and this effect creates the juiciness I describe in many wines. One of the most notable effects food can have on wine is the match one gets when a high-acid wine such as a dry Riesling is properly paired with juicy roast chicken (where acid and fat trump a possible flavour intensity mis-match) or with grilled cold-water salmon (where the acid nicely reduces the fatty character of the fish). Proper matches such as these open doors to wine lovers and even inexperienced tasters begin to appreciate wines that they might otherwise consider too acidic.

if you don’t believe me, try this simple experiment:  open a bottle of extra-dry Riesling that is chilled but not too cold.  Have your entree standing by (for example a filet of grilled trout with some lightly-boiled baby potatoes au beurre).  Sniff, swirl, slosh and swallow a sip of the wine on its own.  Note the juicy freshness of the citrus aromas and flavours.  Note also the intensely-high acidity in the glass and the juices released by your saliva glands.  Clearly this is not a patio sipper wine.  Now tuck into your filet of trout with another sip of the wine.  Now note how much softer the wine is – and how much the flavours and texture of the fish are enhanced by the combination of the crisp and assertive wine and the juices in your mouth.  Sheer bliss!

Here’s another way of looking at matching.  This table provides a picture of the possibilities:


In my scheme green boxes represent the perfect match, an orange box means you should proceed with caution and avoid at all costs where you see a red box.  Note the versatility of sparkling wine (here I refer to a quality traditional method sparkler such as Champagne, Cava, a Crémant from France, or New World delights like the Gloria Ferrer in the last Vintages Release.

I hope this little primer helps you work through the complexities of matching.  More importantly I hope it gives you some cues for your own experimentation.

Enjoy!

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.

Advertisements

LCBO Vintages release – February 19, 2011

This weekend was the occasion of another Vintages release – two weeks just flies by, doesn’t it?

The feature wines this weekend were made with the Cabernet Sauvignon grape.  We also saw wines for Passover and gold medal winners made in Ontario.  It was quite a diverse selection of features but it was a little light on quality and value.  This fact, aside, there were some nuggets amongst the rubble and I give you my picks, below…

Despite my comment about this release being light on quality and value,  we still have a reasonably solid set of fine wines to choose from in this release, many of them good values.  As a result, once again I have my A-list selections and a short list of B – wines that almost equal the A’s for quality and value.

First the A’s…

British Columbia, Okanagan Valley – VQA Okanagan Valley Jackson-Triggs Okanagan Estate Proprietor’s Grand Reserve Shiraz 2006

This is a single parcel wine from the Osoyoos Lake Bench with 12 months of oak aging on its resume. The colour is deep, brooding ruby and the nose has some wonderful elements of spice, black cherry and violet.  The palate is concentrated and balanced with juicy fruit, medium acid and dry, dusty tannins.  Flavours of black cherry, stewed plum and vanilla dominate.  Match with a beef stew loaded with root vegetables.  I’m pleased to report his wine is priced by Vintages at $2.00 less than its BC price.

Extra dry, red wine – $24.95 per bottle

Germany, Franken – QmP, Würzburger Innere Leiste Bürgerspital Silvaner Kabinett Trocken 2009

Here we have a correct Silvaner in every way – an intense floral, fruit-forward nose; a palate with  bright acid and ripe stone fruit; a long finish.  There are white flower, honey, ripe melon, lime and ginger notes on the nose and palate, a backbone of stony minerals and a very slight spritz. This wine is distinctive and memorable – a classic for the varietal. Look for the flagon-shaped bottle (known as a Bocksbeutel).  Very food-friendly, this wine.  Serve with charcuterie or grilled veal chop.

Dry, white wine – $18.95 per bottle

New Zealand, South Island, Marlborough – Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009

Spy Valley is a source of sound, well-made, value wines. This Sauvignon Blanc is a perfect example of the type. The nose and palate are intense and pungent: citrus, grass, gooseberry, white pepper – a great, complex combo.  The acid is crisp and juicy, the minerals are sleek and the finish is long and clean.  This is a very good wine for summer barbecue planning, at a very good price.

Extra dry, white wine- $15.95 per bottle

Italy, Tuscany – IGT Toscana Marchesi de’ Frescobaldi Tenuta di Castiglioni 2008

The only feature wine on my A-list, this is a concentrated blend of Bordeaux grapes with a small portion of Sangiovese.  The colour is deep ruby, the nose has red cherry, herb and plum.  The palate is medium-bodied with flavours of plum, black currant and leather.  The mouth feel is juicy with medium acidity, and grainy, concentrated tannins.  This is a well-structured wine which will accompany grilled red meats to a “T”. Excellent value.

Extra dry, red wine – $21.95 per bottle (Cabernet Sauvignon feature wine)

California, Carneros – Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Blancs 2005

This wine is a cool-climate stunner and is the first run-don’t–walk wine in a long while. I don’t know where to start so I’ll just throw out words that describe the pleasure: concentrated, biscuit, medium-full weight, citrus, chalky minerals, creamy mousse, juicy, intense, long finish…you get the drift.  This is an exceptional value and is a buy-the-case selection.  Celebrate with this wine on its own or serve at special family meals.  It will go with anything.

Extra dry, sparkling white wine – $24.95 per bottle

This week’s B-list (almost A’s…):

Ontario, Prince Edward County – VQA Prince Edward County Rosehall Run Cuvée County Pinot Noir 2008

One of the better wineries in PEC, Rosehall Run makes some very fine Cuvée County wines.  This is a light P-N with a red fruit-forward nose and spice, cherry, cranberry and earth on the palate. Well-balanced and elegant.  Ontario feature wine (Extra dry, red wine – $19.95 per bottle.)

Austria, Lagnereserve – Leth Vineyards Steinagrund Grüner Veltliner 2009

Citrus, lemon and white flowers abound on the nose and palate. This is a delicate, spicy, juicy and peppery wine – all true to the expectations of any Gruvee fan. (Dry, white wine – $16.95 per bottle.)

France, Southern Rhône– AOC  Côtes du Rhône-Villages Rasteau Château Goudray Cuvée Excellence 2009

Rasteau is a reliable appellation for round fruit and herbal aroma and palate expression.  This one delivers, from an excellent vintage. I suggest cellaring for a year or two.  (Dry, red wine – $15.95 per bottle).

The next Vintages release will be out on March 5, 2011.  At that time wines from Argentina and Chile will be featured along with wines from northern Italy.  We’ll see you then.

à bientôt…

Copyright© W. John Switzer 2003 – 2011.