Space limitations in the print edition mean that the overview of the exquisite wine pairings for this week’s restaurant review moves online. I thought it important to include them, not only because they were chosen with such great care and are in every way a match for the world-class food, but the choices also illustrate a few important factors I’d like to share with readers about the strange alchemy of pairing wine with food.
As a general rule, progressions follow from white to red, light to heavy. The Holy Grail is finding the match where the food makes the wine taste better, and the wine makes the food taste better. This is not easy to achieve, but it’s what chefs and sommeliers are always striving for.
So for your information, with a few comments on each match, are the exquisite pairings for the food reviewed this week.
Maine Lobster “Jar” with Siberian Osetra Caviar
Piper Heidsieck ~ ~ ~NV Brut
The light, dry, sparkling character of Champagne is always a good place to begin—especially with rich lobster topped with lush caviar.
Octopus “a la Plancha” with Black Garlic Aioli
Granbazán “Etiqueta Ámbar” Albariño, ~ ~ ~Rias Baixas 2011
This demonstrates the importance of fresh acidity, which in balance with the body of the wine, just fills your mouth with crispness and makes you want to take another bite of food. Octopus paired with Albariño (two stalwarts of coastal Spanish cuisine) reinforces the “what grows together, goes together” axiom in wine pairing.
Hot ‘Smoked” Niman Ranch Lamb with Fuji Apple and Curry Dressing
Reichsgraf von Kesselstatt, Piesporter Goldtröpfchen Riesling Kabinett , Mosel 2011
Normally, your expectation with lamb would be red wine. But this very successful match is an example of pairing with the sauce. This vineyard produces wines with a mineral character and the natural sweetness of the Riesling complements the smokiness infused in the meat and the spiciness of the curry dressing.
Fennel Pollen Crusted Diver Scallop in a Salt Bowl
Foxen ‘Old Vines” Ernesto Wickendon Vineyard Chenin Blanc, Santa Maria Valley 2011
Old vines have the potential to produce wines of greater character and single vineyard, small production offerings usually mean high quality. That’s very true of this producer you may remember from the movie, Sideways. Their Chenin Blanc (more on this grape in next week’s “Drink More Wine” column) is dry, but elegant with balanced fruit and acidity. And the alcohol or oak that might overpower the scallop, are nicely restrained, so you’re left with minerality that softens with the scallop and the sauce. Just delightful.
They only made 950 cases of this rare wine, so we were lucky to have a chance to drink it. By contrast, popular wines are produced in five figure case amounts.
Wild Turbot with Meyer Lemon Beurre Blanc
Domaine de la Solitude Châteauneuf-du-Pape Blanc 2011
The famous reds from this region usually dominate, so this white is a pleasant surprise. For me, it’s the wine of the night and in total sync with all the elements on the plate. It’s an unusually exciting match in an evening of great pairings. A mix of 50% Grenache Blanc, 25% Roussanne, and 25% Bourboulenc (Rhone blending grapes), it exhibits a subtle toasty quality from oak barrel aging. The wine is full-bodied without being heavy, with elegant floral nuances plus tropical and ripe, stone fruit aromas. The flavors and mouthfeel match the delicate fish and the citrus-tinged butter sauce. I’m only sorry I can’t share this with all of you.
Crispy Squab with Arugula Agnolotti and Cherry Jus
Goldeneye Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley 2010
Pinot Noir is generally a light bodied, earthy wine. As such it goes well with game birds. In this case, the wine’s hints of smokiness and berry fruits bring all the flavors of the dish together.
Colorado Bison with Caraway Seed Vinaigrette
Palacios Remondo “Propiedad”, Rioja 2008
This Rioja from Spain is very inviting. The medium-bodied wine is 60% Garnacha and 40% Tempranillo (future “Drink More Wine” columns will discuss these red grapes). Black cherry and plum flavors with gentle acidity hit just the right notes with the lean meat and slightly sweet sauce.
Australian Kobe-Style Beef Tenderloin with Tamarind Jus
Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley 2008
The fattiness of the beef goes well with the intense Cabernet by balancing the firm tannins (the “pucker-factor” in big reds). Silver Oak is California at its best and a classic match for this dish.
Selections from the Cheese Trolley
Quinta do Crasto Late Bottled Port 2007
Space also kept me from sharing details of the cheese course in print. The diverse and flavorful selections are aged Gouda, Sottocenere al tartufo (truffles), Cheshire cheddar, 24-month-old Parmigiano Reggiano, Colston-Basset Stilton, and Bijou, aged goat cheese from the Vermont Butter & Cheese Creamery. The accompaniments to mix and match are: Florida tupelo honey with comb (rare light color with delicate buttery flavor), sweet Spanish Marcona almonds and spiced candied walnuts, multi-colored Mostarda di Cremona (a delicious Italian condiment made of candied fruit and light mustard-flavored syrup) and, finally, crisp wafer thin cherry-whole grain bread.
The plush style of the vintage port (as opposed to a non-vintage of lower quality) is creamy, full of zesty fruit with peppery accents, and just enough tannin on the finish to balance the fattiness in the cheese. It pairs well in general, but is a classic match with the blue Stilton.
“Celebes” Coffee, Tea (tableside with vacuum percolators)
Don’t miss the included coffee and tea service that is as entertaining as it is bursting with flavor. This method of extraction produces a superb cup of either hot beverage. By starting with the highest quality coffee beans from Indonesia or a splendid selection of loose teas, the vacuum percolators are fun to watch (see photos) and the wait staff is perfectly schooled to assure that your choice is served at its peak. It’s a wonderful way to end your meal and only reinforces V&A’s commitment to excellence.