Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Food & Wine Pairing . . . No Stumping This Sommelier!

A sommelier has several skills that they must keep in shape with constant training (said training involves a considerable amount of eating and wine-tasting, so consequently I’m in the gym almost as much as an athlete). I don’t know if Tiger Woods is goaded while out on the course, but I am relentlessly challenged by my customers to matches of ‘Stump the Sommelier’. Some delight in springing difficult wines on me to taste blind, hounding me to guess the grape, growing region, and vintage on the spot. Others go the food route, quizzing me on the perfect pairing for odd, obscure recipes that often prompt me to question: who would want to eat it in the first place?

While blind tasting - though very useful - is a parlor trick of the trade that is fun to flex for oohs and ahhs, the pairing skill is one that I am surprised astounds so many people. For me, the ideal pairing is rooted in pleasure, and pleasure is absolutely subjective - trust me, once you have witnessed diners fete with delight on sushi and massive California Cabernet, you quickly understand that we don’t all play on the same jungle gym.

So I have decided to occasionally share in this blog some of my favorite tips for pairing success; there are all sorts of published rules and guidelines available, my goal is to help you be inspired rather than restricted.

While Sauvignon Blanc and steak is not my personal recommendation, it is not so necessary to stay focused on the meat and color match-up. I would say pair to preparation - is there a cream sauce or tomato sauce? Is the meat grilled or broiled? - before protein.

For a quick and efficient pairing ‘workout’ serve a meal this week with two very different wines: one paired mainly to the protein, and one that you pair to the sauce or main flavor-enhancing ingredient. For example, sautée a chicken breast with a Mediterranean-style tomato sauce featuring fresh basil, olives, garlic, etc. Thinking only of what matches well with chicken, pour a nice full Chardonnay, whatever is your favorite from California. Then with the sauce in mind, pour a tart, juicy Italian red, perhaps a Sangiovese-based Chianti, or a Barbera. Invite as many people as you can accommodate to see how the preferences compare. Hopefully it will yield an enlightening gastronomical experience; if nothing else you had a nice dinner party, so pleasure accomplished!

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