Recipe for a grape soiree: what to eat with that wine
As wine tasters at Stein Eriksen Lodge swarmed vintner stations for a pour at The Underdog Foundation’s Park City Culinary, Wine and Ski Classic’s Evian Grape Soiree, they also managed the art of cocktail ambidexterity, holding a glass stem in one hand, while cradling a napkin’s-worth of hors d’oeuvres in the other.
Along with the cabernets and the chardonnays, they sampled cheese, pepperoni, crab cakes and sweet strawberries dressed garnished with a flower of cream cheese.
While the evening celebrated the adventure of taste trial and error, and while some vintners also encouraged exploration ("rough guidelines are made to be broken," claims Peter Mondavi of Charles Krug), when pressed, the ballroom’s enophiles did have preferences for what foods might best be consumed with a glass of their particular wine.
A wine academy crib sheet
According to the evening’s resident wine educator, Sarah Henry, owner of Park City’s "The Art of Wine," matching wines with food is about finding a common ground.
"The easy rule of thumb is to pair wines with foods that have the same general characteristics," she advised.
Henry noted that certain families of wines with "balanced characteristics" could be very versatile, such as Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines. She explained that they function differently from others because they avoid the "tannic" qualities of other wines, referring to the overbearing quality of that "feeling in your mouth when there’s fuzz on your tongue and the top of your mouth."
Tip number two from the wise wine woman: "you don’t want a wine that is so over-powering, you can’t taste the food."
Reading wine labels can often be like reading poetry translating taste into words can be an arduous task and deciphering the translation equally as daunting. The best way to know how to pour the right beverage to suit a food, says Henry, is to taste.
Henry counseled soiree-goers to detect the hint of flavor with her six-step method: sight, sniff swirl, smell, sip, swallow (or spit).
"If you taste a lemon flavor in a wine, pair it with a food that you will cook with lemons. If the wine reminds you of butter, serve it with a buttery food. If the wine is smoky, drink it with a smoky food," she explained.
Cooking with crab cakes
Chris Zimmerman represents Vias Imports, which includes nearly 70 wines from Italy’s Dolomite mountain region, a territory that abuts the Austrian border, where German surpasses Italian as the language of choice.
One wine in particular appeared to him to pair best with one of the dishes served at the Grape Soiree, a 2004 Pinot Grigio made by monks at the Abbazia di Novacella monastery.
"It’s killer with the crab cakes," he said.
Vintners recommended Voignier and lighter crisper chardonnays for seafood dishes, but representatives from Utah’s Young’s Market brokerage, a brokerage that represents nearly 500 labels sold in Utah, also suggested the Japanese rice drink, Nigori (or "cloudy" sake) might be a good bet.
"Nigori has a creamy feel and most Japanese sakes are very dry," Young’s Market broker Kristian Jelm said. "It goes well with sushi and light seafood, but most people think to pair sake with Japanese food only. It actually has a crisp taste just like any white wine so it can be paired with any type of seafood, and pork in lighter preparations."
Pairing with barbecue and anything with a kick
Jelm also recommends Nigori sake to accompany a curry dish.
Michael-David Winery representative Michael Stroh says the company’s warmer-region fruit-filled wines taste best when escorting something that has "a little spice to back it up."
Stroh said the combination is especially true for the Earthquake Zinfandels and 6th Sense Syrahs which he describes as "heavy reds with an over-the-top style."
Vino to escort pastas and salads
White-sauce pastas like Alfredos might do well with the up-and-coming fruit-infused Viognier varieties, such as Michael-David’s Incognito, according to Stroh.
"It’s a French grape variety that’s building its reputation," he said of the Viognier. "Hopefully it will be competing with Chardonnay soon."
Young’s Market reps liked Brenzinger Chardonnay from California family farmers with a biodynamic organic practice.
While Peter Mondavi from Charles Krug: Peter Mondavi Family Vineyards insists it’s always better to "try things and come to your own conclusions," he adds that his winery’s Chardonnay is also a good choice for salads and pastas.
Robust wines partner with beef, deer and duck
Mondavi said "bigger bolder reds" work best with meat-based dishes. The same Merlots and Cabernets that fit those discriptions, he explained, could likewise work with salmon dishes.
Napa Valley winemaker Sean Capiaux of Capiaux wines recommends his variety of Pinot Noir for a variety of dishes, including meat.
"All the Pinot grapes I use come from different sites from Monterey County to the San Lucia Highlands to the Sonoma coast," he confirmed. "Each one has a slightly different character and can be paired with many different dishes including meats."
Pizzas and tacos remembered
In the minority, the Utah-based Squatters and Wasatch beer breweries and Corazon tequila tables kept each other company as the ugly ducklings of the evening, offering a more casual alternative to the sophisticated grape-derived beverage majority.
Kari Gillette, manning the Squatter’s and Wasatch table noted Wasatch’s latest brew, Bobsled Brown Ale, a brown ale with roasted malt undertones made with hops from Willamette Valley, Ore.
"What should you eat with beer? Anything pizza I guess," she suggested.
Her neighbor, liquor representative David McGeary managed the Tequila Corazon de Agave station a Mexican imported liquor by Destiladora San Nicolas in the highlands of Jalisco, Mexico. His table offered two versions, a clear "blanco" tequila aged in stainless steel and the "Roposado," that retained the amber color of a whiskey.
"These days, tequila is breaking into mixed cocktails than strait," he noted.
The Mexican liquor, he said, is best consumed with Mexican food.
And for dessert
Champagne-filled flutes come to mind for a celebratory cake, but there are other wines that might also be a good bet.
Sarah Smith, broker for Utah’s Young’s Market Company suggests a rose, like 2006 Crios de Susana Balbo Rose of Malbec from Argentina’s Eastern Andes.
She says that while formerly the sweet, pink wine was viewed as an unsophisticated "starter kit" to wine, the category has since grown in popularity.
"It’s dry and pleasing and one of the only Argentinean wines Utah offers," she said. "It’s great with fruit salad, which is actually really hard to pair," she said.
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