Food and Wine in Balance – Interesting Knowledge

Jerry Comfort from Beringer Winery

We all have been taught that white wines go with fish and red wines go with meat (red meat especially) and never the two shall cross.  But my recent Food and Wine in Balance seminar at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival tore down that pairing barrier.  So you can enjoy a California Cabernet Sauvignon with a steamed fillet of sole.  Really!

Our speaker with Mr. Jerry Comfort, the head/executive sommelier at Beringer Winery in California.  He brought with us the following wines to taste with our food samples:

  • Beringer White Zinfandel 2010
  • Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  • Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010
  • Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006
  • Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

The Food & Wine Balance Rules

First the dominant taste in your dish will change all wines in the same way but to a different degree.  For example, sweetness in your dish will make all wines taste sour (or less sweet).   Your goal is to find a dish that doesn’t change the flavour of the wine too much, as to impair the pairing.

Beringer flight of wines

Second, sweet food can make wine taste sour.  I know I just mentioned it, but previously as an example of the first rule. How does sweetness make wine taste sour?  The sweet food makes our tongue’s tastebuds used to the sweet taste so that we don’t taste the sweetness in the wine.  If you want to taste the sweetness of a wine with a sweet dish, e.g. a dessert, then the wine must be sweeter than the dish.

Third, sourness in a dish makes wine softer, less acidic tasting.  As an example of these last two rules, we tasted the Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 with a sweet slice of apple and with a sour wedge of lemon. The Sauvignon Blanc became extremely sour tasting after eating the apple, while the wine became very soft, and you could even taste sweetness from the wine after trying the wine with the lemon.  On it’s own this wine had passion fruit and grapefruit aromas.  High acidity with tropical fruit and vanilla flavours.

Food for wine pairing

Fourth, sweet wines can also make red wines taste more bitter.  Toasted barrels used in red wines leave bitterness on your tongue.  We tested this rule by trying a Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006 with some apple and some lemon.  The apple made the Pinot Noir bitter tasting, while the lemon made the Pinot Noir taste soft.  As Jerry, our instructor stated, “Sour food is our friend”. The Pinot Noir on its own had nice violets aroma.  Cinnamon, cloves, soft and round on the palate.  We tried the same test to the Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  It tasted very dry, tannic and bitter with the apple, yet was quite soft on the palate with the the lemon.

How can sweetness in food make wines both sour and/or bitter?  Well these flavours in the wine were already there.  Sweetness makes these characteristics in the wine even stronger.

Fifth, salt blocks bitterness and acidity.  So salt can soften tannins in red wines, along with lemon.  From this, it would make sense that if you have a dish with low or no salt, that you should pair it with a wine that has little or no oak.  If you can’t eat salt due to health concerns, use acidity to tame those tannins.

As a test of this salt and acidity balancing out bitterness, we had a steamed piece of white fish that we each added lemon and salt.  We then ate a piece of this seasoned fish and a sip of the Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The pairing worked wonderfully.  Everything was in balance.

We also tried adding some salt and lemon to grilled steak and eating this seasoned steak with a Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010.  The Chardonnay on it’s own had vanilla, less and tropical fruit aromas.  Round with medium acid, vanilla (from oak) and tropical fruit flavours. The steak did not overpower the Chardonnay.

Sixth, spice (such as black pepper) does not affect sweetness or fruitiness in wine, but does taste spicer with red wines.  We tried some cheese with a black pepper rind with the Beringer California White Zinfandel.  This off-dry wine did not make the pepperiness go away, you just tasted the sweetness in the wine, which then wore off and the pepperiness reappeared.  This cheese with black pepper tasted more spicy with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

How do you deal with spiciness? Again through the proper addition of acidity and salt balanced out the spicy food so that they had less effect on the wine’s flavours, so the wine tasted good.  Adding some lemon juice and salt to the pepper rind cheese made a very nice pairing with the Cab.

Take Away from this Seminar

My take away from this seminar is that you really can enjoy more than one type of wine with a dish, as long a the dish has an appropriate salt & acid balance.  This is important, if you are having a party for example, and you have some people that prefer red wines while others prefer white wines.  Through the proper balancing of the food’s flavours, you can make a dish that both types of wines lovers will love even more.

If you have food with low salt, you may choose a high acid wine, or a wine with low oak. A dish that is very salty would do better with a fortified or a dessert wine (think salty cheese and port).

Overall I thought that this was a really different food & wine pairing event, and one which I would like to try on my own now.  Enjoy!

Almost Last Minute Christmas Holiday Wine Picks 2011

There are less than 2 weeks to Christmas now. Maybe you are starting to think about Christmas gifts, or inviting family and friends over to your place for a nice dinner, or you received a dinner invitation? What wines to gift or serve?

I went through the list of all the wines I tasted in 2011 and have a few suggestions for you.

Some Favourite Sparkling Wines for 2011

  • Oyster Bay Brut and Rose sparkling wines

    Perrier Jouet Grand Brut N/V, France. This is also a blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.  Pale lemon in colour.  Light lees and toast on the nose. Light body with apples and white fruit.  Small bubbles with lower acidity.  I really enjoyed this one in part due to the lower acidity which made this Champagne very easy to drink on its own.

  • Bastianich Flor Prosecco, Italy ($19.99).  A delightful wine with melon and lychee aromas. Off dry, light body, with cinnamon, citrus and peach flavours.  Small bubble.  This is such a fun wine. Start a party with this wine.
  • Champagne de Venoge Cordon Bleu Brut Select NV, France ($62.99). This Champagne is a blend of 2/3 PinotNoir and Pinot Meunier (both red grapes), and 1/3 Chardonnay. Light lemon in colour.  Nice medium toasty nose.  Medium acidity and body.  Citrus, some spice and toasty flavours on the palate.
  • Oyster Bay Sparkling Cuvee Brut N/V, New Zealand ($24.99). I was really surprised by this wine.  It won me over with it’s fresh fruit flavours. Light citrus and stone fruit on the nose.  Lots of flavour in your mouth with citrus, lime, kiwi fruit, and herbal flavours. Small bubble with medium acidity.
  • Schramsberg Vineyards Blanc de Blanc, 2008, California. Light lemon colour.  Vanilla and spice on the nose.  High acid with small bubbles.  Lemons and green apples greet your tongue. A very nice, elegant dry sparkling wine.

Some Favourite White Wines for 2011

  • Stags Hollow Viognier and Sauvignon Blanc 2010

    Beringer Private Reserve Chardonnay 2009, California.  This is a single vineyard wine.  Medium lemon in colour with tropical fruit and some toasty aromas. Medium body and very soft mouth feel (really silky). Some vanilla and tropical fruit flavours.  Really nice.

  • Waterstone Chardonnay, 2009, California. This is my favourite white wine of the night.  Not a typical Napa Chardonnay.  This wine had a medium pear colour.  Vanilla and bartlett pear aromas. Medium body, soft and round mouthfeel.  Cinnamon and tropical fruit flavours with light acidity.  Nice and fruity, some vanilla with a long dry finish.
  • Stags Hollow Viognier 2010, BC. One of my favourite wines of the tasting. This Viognier was pale in colour with some sweetness, orange, and flower aromas. Very pretty. Tropical fruit and cinnamon flavours.  Medium body.
  • Tantalus Vineyards Riesling 2010, BC. Their Riesling is always on my favourite list. This one is no exception.  It has light lemon, lychee and flowers on the nose.  Off dry, with high acidity to make your mouth water for more.  Red apples and lemon flavours.  Excitement in a glass.
  • Thornhaven Estates Winery Pinot Gris 2010, BC. I think there is something specific about the terroir for this wine that makes this Pinot Gris have a wonderful grapefruit nose and flavour.  I haven’t seen this in other Okanagan Pinot Gris. Pale lemon in colour with red grapefruit nose. Flowery with citrus, grapefruit flavours. Yum.
  • Graffigna Grand Reserve Torrontes 2010 (Argentina). Torrontes is the signature white grape of Argentina.  Very aromatic and a good change from Gewurztraimer or Viognier. Light lemon coloured. Lychee and perfumy nose.  Light body, round, with medium acidity.  Lychee, apricot and cinnamon flavours. Very tasty with a long spicy finish.
  • Pfaffenheim Steinert Grand Cru Gewurztraminer 2007 (France). I love Alsatian wines, and was really looking forward to Pfaffenheim’s wines. Medium lemon colour.  Wonderful lychee nose with a slight touch of sweet spice. Full body. Off dry with lower acidity.  Round mouthfeel with lychee, apricot and flowery flavours.  Very nice.

Some Favourite Red Wines for 2011

  • Santa Rita Pehuen Carmenere 2005

    Kim Crawford Small Parcel “The-Rise-and-Shine” Creek Central Otago Pinot Noir 2007, New Zealand. Central Otago, is inland in the South Island.  The cooler climate allows these grapes have a long hang time and smaller berries, which gives a higher skin to pulp ratio, and more intense, riper, fruit flavours.  Medium purple in the glass with ripe purple fruit and vanilla aromas.  Ripe fruit, cassis, plums and vanilla on the palate.  Medium body and medium length.  Very nice.

  • Vina Santa Rita Pehuen Carmenere 2005, Chile. Pehuen Carmenere is a premium wine from Vina Santa Rita.  Opaque purple in the glass. Dark fruit nose with a whiff of capsicum. Full bodied but with soft tannins.  Ripe black cherries, vanilla and spice on the palate.  A very long length.  Here is a Carmenere you should try.
  • Dusted Valley Grenache, Columbia Valley 2009, Washington. This was such a wonderful wine.  Just the right balance of fruit, tannins, and acidity.  The wine was medium garnet in colour.  Cherry, vanilla and smoky aromas.  Raspberry, cherry, and vanilla on the palate.  Medium bodied with a raspberry finish.
  • 1884 Reservado Cabernet Sauvignon 2009, Argentina ($16.99).  This was my red wine deal of the wine tasting. Drink now. Raspberry and cocoa on the nose.  Full body with full ripe cherries and raspberries.  Juicy!  Long finish.
  • Desert Hills Syrah 2007, BC.  Another one of my favourites of the tasting. Almost opaque ruby in colour. Smoky, meaty, and dark fruit nose. Full body, dry tannins, with dark fruit spice and vanilla flavours.  Enjoy this big wine with a nice roast over the winter.
  • Ogier Crozes Hermitage, Les Brunnelles 2008, France ($25.99). This is a Rhone Valley wine. The Rhone Valley produces some fabulous Syrah, and this is one of them. I really liked the aromas of this wine of cassis and plums. Full body with cassis, raspberry, cherry and oak flavours.  Low tannins helped make this wine very approachable.
  • Finca Las Moras Intis Malbec 2010, Argentina. This wine was the surprise wine of the evening.  It is priced at $8.99, and over delivers. Pale ruby colour.  Light aromas of grilled sausage and dark fruit. Medium plus body with medium acidity.  Vanilla, cherry, raspberry and sausage flavours all together. Lots of nice flavours.  Dry with soft tannins.

Some Favourite Fortified Wines

  • Sogrape Vinhos Ferreira 20-Year-Old Duque de Braganca (Portugal). Light tawny colour in the glass. Ripe sweet fruit and Malmsey Madeira nose.  Round mouthfeel, medium sweetness. Apples, plums, chocolate and spice. Nice.
  • Fonseca N/V Terra Prima Organic Port ($31.99).  Rich black fruit nose.  Medium body in your mouth.  Spicy with plums, cherries, and chocolate flavours.  Medium sweetness. Very nice.
  • Mount Baker Vineyards Late Harvest Viognier 2007, Washington (US$20 for a half bottle). Deep lemon in colour.  Pretty nose with peaches, oranges and honey. Unctus in your mouth. Sweet with honey, honeydew melon, and peach flavours. Good acidity to balance this wine. A wonderful wine. Highly recommended to top off a nice meal with family or friends.
  • Fonseca 20 Year Old Tawny Port, Portugal ($63.99).  A tawny port is aged in wooden barrels, which exposes the wine to oxygen causing oxidation. As a result, these wines  gradually turn to a golden-brown colour. The exposure to oxygen also imparts “nutty” flavours to the wine. This wine had caramel and roses aromas in the glass.  Amazing flavour with sweet spices, nuttiness and butterscotch.  Sweet but dry with a long length.  I REALLY liked this wine.

There are many more in my archives, so please check there as well for a specific varietal or style. www.mywinepal.com and of course the blog right here!  Cheers and Happy Holidays to all my friends, near and far.