I’ve always stressed the importance of pairing your favorite wine with a complimentary food – or vice-versa. Why? Well to quote Aristotle : “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”
In other words, if you think that thick, bone-in rib-eye is culinary nirvana, pair it with the right wine and the whole experience is elevated to a completely new level of sensory satisfaction. Sound hedonistic? Maybe, but hey, why only treat your palate to half the potential pleasure?
Today, I’m going to tell you about three recent food and wine pairing experiences that have been real “Aha Moments” for me. These occasions reminded me just how satisfying and fun it can be to find that perfect marriage of a particular wine with a complimentary dish.
It started with a meal at Sam’s Uptown Café during Restaurant Week. I love the varied menu at Sam’s, and the weekend brunch offerings are always superb. But this particular course at Restaurant Week was absolutely spectacular: Boar sausage roll with hen of the woods mushroom, heirloom tomato ragu, sautéed escarole and house ricotta. I selected a 2014 Wente Riva Ranch Arroyo Secco Pinot Noir to pair with the course. Sometimes selecting the right wine can be the result of a thoughtful and reasoned approach or it might just be the right guess and a big dose of dumb luck.
In this case, it was the latter, but what a great guess it was! Pinot noir, particularly from California’s central coast, can have earthy, root vegetable nuances which, in this pairing, particularly complimented the hen of the woods mushroom that was the prime ingredient in the boar sausage roll. Wonderful!
The second exceptional marriage of wine with a specific dish occurred at FeastivALL – the annual fundraiser for FestivALL where attendees attempt to pick a winner between wine and beer selections matched with each of five courses. I paired the course featuring lentil soup -composed of herb fennel sausage, roasted vegetables and grilled crostini – with a 2007 Bernard Faurie St. Joseph, a syrah from the northern Rhone Valley in France.
This hearty lentil soup needed a full-bodied and dry red, but one with enough acidity to provide a refreshing balance to the complex flavors of the dish. Zinfandel or a big cabernet sauvignon might have overwhelmed the soup, but the French syrah was perfect. I don’t think a California syrah or shiraz from Australia would have worked either because that style of syrah tends to accentuate the fruit sweetness of the grape.
Oh, by the way, in the beer vs wine throw down, FeastivALL attendees chose wine as the overall beverage winner this year!
The other excellent pairing of food and wine I experienced recently occurred during a visit to my brother Spike who lives in North Carolina. Spike lived the dream many of us have of owning and cooking at our very own restaurant. His five year stint (sentence?) as chief cook and bottle washer at a bistro-like establishment left him with burn marks on his hands and arms, a whole new epithet-enhanced vocabulary and a renewed appreciation for cooking at home.
Spike spent a career in the wine business so, when we get together, we do eat and drink well. This last visit, my brother bought a whole striped bass and rubbed the interior cavity of the fish (which had been dressed) with olive oil, garlic, lemon slices, coarsely ground black pepper and herbs. He then completely covered and packed the exterior of the fish with kosher salt and roasted it in the oven for about an hour.
The fish was moist, fragrant and luscious, and the 2014 Michel Lafarge Aligote made this experience deliciously memorable. Aligote is the other white of Burgundy (which most famously produces chardonnay) and the Lafarge wine is full of ripe green apple flavors, minerality and, in this instance, was a refreshing and harmonious compliment to the striped bass.
So the next time you’re thinking of uncorking a bottle of wine or you’re ruminating about what to prepare for dinner, consider combining the two endeavors. It will surely make the overall experience more complete and pleasurable.