Tuesday, March 23, 2010

More Wine!

Only two days of Wines left - and I'm really sad! I'm amazed by how much we've covered in just ten days, and how much better I've become at assessing wines. And yes, I'm starting to enjoy the good ones...

On Friday our class dined in St. Andrew's - it was our special wine and food pairings lunch. The menu was carefully chosen to be very wine-friendly, with two wines offered per course. Generally, for the in-class wine and food pairings we taste up to ten different wines repeatedly with each of the various components on our plate - which makes for a lot of confusion and unpleasant pairings. By only tasting two suitable wines with each dish it was far easier to compare and contrast and pick a favorite.

Anyway, here's my wine and food pairing write-up from the afternoon. Not a masterpiece by any measure, but it demonstrates the various elements of wines and foods that should be considered in pairing.


The first course of Blue Hill Bay Mussels went perfectly with Dr. Frank Celebre (New York, USA, nv). The wine had a beautifully nutty smell with aromas of yellow apple and honey. The light body, bubbles, and high acidity made for a very refreshing wine. It had a hint of sweetness and an intense fruitiness, particularly of green apple and strawberry. The light body of the wine perfectly matched the delicate nature of the mussels and the light-bodied broth. The bubbles and acidity cleansed my palate of the brininess of the mussels and the richness of the chorizo, and the fruity tones in the Celebre complemented the lightly sweet roasted peppers and onions in the broth.

I believe a nice crisp Prosecco (Bartolomiol, Veneto, Italy, nv) or Muscadet de Sevre et Maine (Chateau de la Chesnaie “sur lie” m.e.b.c., Loire, France, 2008) would also pair well with this dish for many of the same reasons: both have light bodies to match the delicacy of the mussels and broth, and the high acidity would temper the fattiness of the chorizo.

The main course featured local braised lamb with polenta and oyster mushrooms, and I thought it paired particularly well with the Reserva (Duas Quintas, Ramos Pinto, Douro, Portugal, 2003). This wine was full-bodied, bone-dry, tannic (but not overly so), and peppery with raspberry, plum, dry fruit (especially fig), leather and tobacco flavors. All of the components of the dish – the braised lamb, the creamy polenta, the mushrooms and wine-based sauce – were very bold and rich; this intensity was perfectly matched by the intensity of the full-bodied Reserva. The tannins helped to reduce the impression of creaminess in the polenta, allowing the true corn flavor to come out from behind the butter. The earthiness of the mushrooms and lamb were complemented by the earthy, smoky (tobacco, leather) notes in the wine. Interestingly, the very subtle hints of dried fig and vanilla in the wine were brought out when it was tasted with the lamb sauce, because the sauce had been prepared with the Reserva.

This lamb dish would also go very well with the Orpheus Petite Sirah (Lolonis, Redwood Valley, Mendocino, California, USA, 2005), another full-bodied wine strong enough to match the intensity of the lamb and polenta, and tannic enough to cut the richness. The earthy notes in this wine would complement the earthy, slightly gamey lamb, sauce, and mushrooms. A sparkling Ros├ę (Iron Horse, estate bottled, Green-Russian River, Sonoma, California, USA, 2003) would also pair well, as it is full-bodied enough to match the lamb, sauce and polenta, but with the bubbles and refreshing acidity to cleanse the palate of excess richness. The fruit tones would provide a nice contrast to the earthiness of the dish.

The Riesling (Cave Spring Reserve, Beamsville Bench, Niagara Peninsula, Ontario, Canada, 2007) was my preferred wine to go with the final course. I loved everything about the cheese plate, but the Riesling really tied it all together. Initially, the Riesling had the customary – and powerful – gasoline smell, along with the aroma of wet slate and undertones of pineapple, guava, peach, and mango. It was a very refreshing wine: high in acid, light in body, and full of wonderful grapefruit and ripe pear and apple flavors.

The Hudson Red was a luscious, creamy washed rind cows’ milk cheese paired with a savory tarte tatin of apple, onion and thyme. The high acidity of the Riesling helped to cut the richness of the cheese, at the same time the hint of sweetness and ample fruit flavors in the wine contrasted with the saltiness and earthiness of the cheese.

The second cheese, a sheeps’ milk camembert, was silky smooth and rich, tangy and earthy like mushrooms. It was paired with an apple chutney that was sweetened just enough to complement the bit of sweetness in the Riesling. When paired with the camembert, the minerality of the Riesling (wet rock notes) brought out the saltiness of the cheese in a very positive way. But when the cheese, chutney, and wine were all tasted together, the fruitiness of the Riesling really emerged to complement the apples in the chutney.

The last cheese was Shaker Blue, a local sheeps’ milk blue. The cheese was excellent paired with a fresh apple and endive salad, but it was absolutely sublime with the Riesling. The cheese was a classic Roquefort-style blue, which meant it was sweet and salty, a bit creamy, and very spicy. To me, it was remarkable how the hint of sweetness and fruity character of the Riesling toned down the spice of the blue, without interfering with the cream and salt. And of course the apples in the salad perfectly complemented the apple flavors of the Riesling.

I would love to pair the Brut Bollinger (Champagne, France, nv) with this cheese course. The bubbles would help to cleanse the palate of excess butterfat from the cheeses, as would the high acidity. The hint of sweetness and yellow apple flavors would match all three of the apple accompaniments, and the lovely butter and toast notes of the Champagne would match the butteriness of the cheeses and the toastiness of the tarte tatin pastry and the hazelnuts in the salad.

Another great wine for this pairing would be Gew├╝rztraminer (Navarro, Anderson Valley, Mendocino, California, USA, 2006). Like the Riesling, the high acidity would help to reduce the richness of the cheeses. Also, the hint of sweetness and super fruit-forward character of the wine would complement the slightly sweet apple pairings.

After hearing Mr. Weiss talk about pairing cheese with wine every single day, I could not wait to actually try it. This cheese course was beautifully composed and worked very well on its own already. But with the Riesling? Wonderful!
The fruit notes in the Riesling went so well with all the variations of apple, and the wine’s acidity and hint of sweetness were the perfect contrast to the salty richness of each cheese. I was curious about the tannin-with-spice rule – that a big tannic wine will only accentuate the spiciness of a dish, sometimes making it unbearable. Would the red (Aglianico del Vulture, “Il Viola”, Tenuta le Querce, Basilicata, Italy) clash with a different type of spice – that of blue cheese? It certainly did, and was quite painful. The cheese alone had been pleasantly pungent, but as soon as I took a sip of the Aglianico my mouth burned. Not pleasant. But as I stated above, the Riesling was a perfect match, and I enjoyed my first “true” wine and cheese pairing immensely.

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