Eagle County Chef’s Roundtable column: Pair with confidence
Ryan Summerlin October 9, 2012
If you’re like me, you probably understand the basic idea of matching food with wine, but can’t be bothered with the details. Here are some practical tips from local chefs and sommeliers that might lure you out of your comfort zone.
“The beauty of wine pairing is that it’s like going to English class and listening to different interpretations of a novel – there’s no wrong interpretation,” said Rob Farrer, sommelier at Grouse Mountain Grill
“There are multiple directions to go in – there’s no one answer,” said Richard Hinojosa, executive chef at Larkspur Restaurant, whose “happy place” wine pairing for his gnocchi would be a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, because it’s a lean, acidic wine, with minerality and citrus flavors that balance the richness of the dish. (Find the gnocchi recipe at larkspur.com/happenings or on Larkspur’s facebook page).
Food friendly wines
Don’t get caught up trying to pair a red or white wine with a specific food.
“Look for good food friendly wines from Italy, Spain or Portugal – they’re not fruit forward, they’re more austere, lighter body wines and tend to be more versatile,” said Peter Hillback, a private chef in Vail.
“A simple rule that I follow is to always let the food shine,” said Farrer, who prefers medium to lighter body wines, and wines with a lower alcohol content. “A lighter wine won’t combat with the flavors of a dish – they don’t get in the way of the food.”
Oregon’s Willamette Valley Pinot’s are also food friendly, softer and more approachable. Try the Domaine Serene Pinot Noir Jerusalem Hill.
“If there’s one pinot on my list I would pop right now it would be that one,” said David Richardson, dining director at Larkspur.
Like, like and opposites attract
At Eat! Drink! in Edwards owner Pollyanna Forester uses the principles “like, like” and “opposites attract” when pairing wine or beer with cheese (eatdrinkinc.com).
For a contrast of flavors, Forester pairs the caramel and nutty flavors of an aged gouda with champagne. Or try a Sauvignon Blanc from the Loire Valley with a Valencay goat cheese to experience the mineral, chalky and tart flavors of this cheese with a dry wine from the same region.
If you’re using ingredients from a certain region of the world, match it with a wine from the same region. James Gall, both a certified sommelier and the managing director of Larkspur suggests pairing wines from Nice, France with Larkspur’s tuna crudo niçoise, a play on the classic dish.
“Few wines pair well with olives, but these wines from the same region as the olives actually complement the olives and the tuna nicely,” Gall said.
Regional wine, cuisine and culture evolve together so a local cuisine and wine pair naturally – especially in Europe.
“When I visit Burgundy, the regional wines and their food create harmony and nuances in flavors that you don’t find otherwise,” said Ben Daroca, sommelier at Larkspur Restaurant.
‘Expand your palate, expand your mind’
Don’t just serve white wine with fish, or red wine with beef.
“I get tired of hearing people say they have to drink a certain wine with a certain type of food. Expand your palate, expand your mind,” said Hillback.
“If our guests are willing to think outside the box, they will totally get it when they taste an unlikely pairing,” said Daroca, who tasted 50 wines with Larkspur’s signature veal scaloppini dish before recommending a white from the Alsace region of France or a German white with residual sugar “to cut the richness of the dish and counter the acid in the lemon, caper garnish.”
It pays to be adventurous. Through October many restaurants in Vail offer wine and food specials, such as Larkspur’s 25 percent off bottles under $100 and 50 percent off bottles priced over $100.
“Go out on a limb,” Daroca said. “That’s when you find that epiphany moment with wine. It can be a game changer.”
But the best advice of all? Don’t be too uppity about your wine choices.
“Wine should be fun,” said David Courtney, owner of Beaver Liquors in Avon, known for its extensive temperature-controlled wine cellar. “There’s nothing like it when you have that true synergy, but most people get too serious about wine,”
Forget the pretention, drink red wine with fish, white wine with red meat and try a new wine app on your phone, or as Courtney said, “drink the wine you like, with the people you like, with the food you like and you can’t go wrong.”
Kelly Brinkerhoff is a local freelance writer contracted by Larkspur Restaurant. Larkspur (www.larkspurvail.com), at the base of Vail Mountain, has been serving American classics with a fresh interpretation since 1999 (email@example.com).