food and wine pairing

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The Making of a Great Couple

The featured wines of the evening

Ian and his wife Linda recently made a trip to the northern Michigan wine country of Old Mission peninsula and brought back a pirates cache of wines. So, the mission he set before us, should we choose to accept it, would be to construct a menu around four of the wines they brought back. He sent us the list with the tasting notes and pretty much said, "go crazy!" Due to extenuating circumstances I ended up planning most of the meal. It was a huge learning experience on my part, as I'd never really started with the beverages as the impetus for creating a menu. This did not intimidate me, however, I saw it more as a challenge, and challenges are always a learning experience. At our meetings it's usually a given that once a menu is set Ian will bring wine pairings and I'll have beer pairings in tow, but since the focus of the evening was the food/wine interactions, I thought it best to leave it alone and approach the barley derived offerings from a different angle. I used them as intermezzos, rather than to pair with the dishes on the table. My concept was to use them to bridge the gap between courses, and create a flow of interconnected flavors with each dish and it's wine accompaniment.

Little cups of seawater, naturally self contained, needing little to no alteration...

The first course, as requested by Ian, would be oysters to pair with Chateau Chantal's "Tonight". A slightly sweeter than usual sparkler. With a drop or 2 of Tabasco on the Blue Points that were selected to counter the sweetness of the beverage (and because Tabasco on Blue Points just kicks ass) the mollusks and fizzy made a great couple. The brine of the oysters, the acidity and slight kick of the Tabasco countered and complimented the mild acids, sweetness and carbonation of the sparkling wine. Course one down, and a great success.

The first two beers of the evening.

To lead us into the next course I chose a beer from the Rogue brewery. Their Chipotle Ale, a light beer in Mexican style with mild smoke from the peppers and almost unnoticeable heat. The spice tied into the Tabasco used on the oysters and the smokiness was a crescendo into the curry used in the next food/wine selection. The next offering may have been the star of the meal. An Asian style soup, leaning heavily on Thai influences, that included pork loin, madras curry, a carefully selected small variety of vegetables, and coconut milk. Garnished with fresh cilantro, Bosc pear battons, crushed toasted cashews, and thinly sliced scallions, it met the wine chosen (Brys Estate Gewurztraminer) and it was love at first bite. The wine is a semi-sweet, so I used lime zest in the recipe, rather than juice, since the wine had it's own balance already. So I knew adding the lime juice, and all the acid that comes with it, to the soup could possibly over power the mild acidity of the wine. Lemongrass would be another option, and equally well suited, but I didn't see any when I hit the market. The sweetness of the pears and the brightness of the cilantro made the semi-sweet wine dance on the tongue, while the curry played well with the nose and mild dryness. The toasted cashews did their fair share, too, in bringing out the minute hint of oak in the wine that might otherwise have gotten lost in the melee. Without ever tasting the wine ahead of time, I'm happy to say I nailed this one! Everything about the pairing came together better than I could have hoped for! (Recipe for this soup here) The beer chosen to flow us into the next course was again a brew from Rogue. The Morimoto Black Obi Soba ale. Since I've already reviewed this one, I'll spare you the details, just click that link for tasting notes. It did it's job in tying the curry and pork into the next course. The mild notes of roasted nuts and caramel did well to tie the curry in the soup to the glaze on the roasted leg of lamb, the maple on the squash, and the cranberries in the risotto. (Review of this beer here) This was the main event. Mustard/Plum glazed roasted leg of Lamb, risotto of barley with Michigan cheddar and cranberries, and maple roasted spaghetti squash. This plate was built around the wine 2 Lads Cabernet Franc. While I would suggest using a smaller cut of lamb than a whole leg since not every bite gave the caramelized plum glaze that was the key to the pairing for the lamb and the wine, it still, by no means, sucked! Ian discovered this the hard way, as he went straight for the interior of the leg. Missing out on the glaze, he commented that the lamb wasn't matching the wine very well. Though, he recanted after scooping up some of the glaze in the bottom of the roasting pan, lamenting his decision to go solely for the less done cuts. Can't really say that I blame him though. Duck would be a great pairing as well, if done in a similar style. All that aside, the plate and the wine went together quite nicely. Not as well as the other courses, but by no means a failure. The fruit and berry in the nose and pallet of the wine mingled well with the plums, and cranberries on the plate, while the mustard and maple interacted with the mild tannins in the wine.

After the Lamb, and before dessert.

The next course was a beer chosen to be a pallet cleanser, leading into dessert. This was the wild card, as I had no clue what dessert would entail at this point, but I knew what to look for toward those ends. I was looking for something that was light, acidic, and possibly had some citrus related ingredients. I settled on Dogfish Head's Namaste. I had never had this one before, but by the label it seemed to fit the bill. A lighter beer brewed with coriander, orange peel, and lemongrass, it seemed only appropriate given all the Asian influences of the meal. Not nearly as 'over the top' as most offerings from that brewery, and as a palette cleanser, it did it's job well. By the time i finished a small glass of it I could no longer taste the lamb. Our resident baker, sadly, could not attend this time out, so dessert was a last minute purchase of apple-caramel crumb cake. "Anathema!" you might be screaming right now, especially if you've been following this site AT ALL! Even the best laid plans can fail, however... While not ideal, it did manage to play with the 45 North Peach Cremant well enough (though the spongy texture of the cake was very 'Twinkiesque'). 45 North's Peach Cremant is a light sparkler with white peach juice, so it paired with the apple and caramel sufficiently. Though, by the end of the meal we were almost on overload so the simplicity was probably a good thing. To be honest, I was really hoping to completely miss the mark at least once. Insane, say you? Why would I possibly want to disappoint THIS crowd?! It would have taught me what NOT to do in food/wine pairing, which can sometimes be a more valuable lesson than getting it right. It is my hope that this post gives you a better understanding of the intricacies of food and beverage pairings. Many factors need to be carefully considered to find that perfect match, if such a thing exists. Oak, acid, specific fruits, specific nut, specific berry, and even "dust" flavors are all terms that have been used in wine tasting notes, so the foods paired with them need to ebb and flow with the beverages. Even cooking technique needs to be considered. Coffee and peach? Might sound like an odd pair, but not if you grill the peaches! As we did this summer on our pizza night with a grilled peach turnover and vanilla ice cream paired with a coffee stout. The coffee amped up the vanilla and grilled flavors to a "punch in the mouth" level and the sweetness of the stout put the caramelized peaches on a pedestal. So here's to learning experiences! I hope you have a few of your own in the kitchen. Jack... (Click here for the full photo gallery of this meal) Chateau Chantal Rogue Chipotle Ale Brys Estate Morimoto Black Obi Soba Ale 2 Lads Cab Franc Dogfish Head Namaste 45 North Peach Cremant