Taste of Vail seminar pairs wine with difficult foods
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Wine pairing fundamentals
Key things consider when creating food and wine pairings from Master Sommelier Roland Micu
1. Sugar: Always make sure the wine has more sugar than the dish.
2. Acid: Match or increase the level of acidity in the dish to the acidity in the wine.
3. Spice: With spicy foods, pair a wine with a low alcohol content and high sugar content and avoid anything sparkling.
4. Oil: When it comes to oily fishy foods, avoid wine with a lot of tannins or phenolic compounds.
A bonus tip for tasting food and wine pairings from Roland Micu: “Try the wine before you try the food. Basically, think about it like you’re a music producer in a studio and you’re going to lay some tracks down first. You’re going to lay down the guitar first then the lead vocal. The wine’s going to be that harmony that you lay down first.”
“If you want to impress someone, make sure your wine has more sugar than your dish,” said Master Sommelier Roland Micu at the conclusion of Friday’s Taste of Vail seminar, Hard to Handle: Perfect Pairings for Difficult Dishes.
Micu, who when he received his certification in 2012 at the age of 28 became America’s youngest master sommelier, told participants that this wine pairing fundamental — to always make sure your wine has more sugar than your dish — was the one key lesson to take away from the seminar.
“If you remember one thing, I want you to remember this,” Micu said. “Always, always when you’re matching a dish, your wine must have more sugar in it than the dish. When you go to a wedding or a birthday party and you’re having cake, they’re giving you bubbly with it, which is probably the worst thing they can give you because of all the acid in the champagne.”
This lesson was learned over the final pairing of the afternoon, a bitter flourless chocolate crisp paired with both a cabernet sauvignon from Flora Springs and a tawny port, which, explained Micu, has a nutty flavor and is less sweet than, say, a ruby style port, but was well-suited for this kind of bitter chocolate dessert. The cabernet sauvignon, on the other hand, didn’t pair quite so nicely due to its lack of sugar content.
“Cabernet sauvignon is going to have maybe three grams of sugar per liter,” Micu said. “The wine on its own is great, but what’s it doing with the chocolate? It’s making the wine sour. Not necessarily a pleasurable experience.”
In short, stay away from your standard, go-to table wines when it comes to creating a good dessert pairing.
“I’d say a good 95 percent of wines that are purposed as table wines — cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc — they’re going to be fermented dry, meaning you’re not going to perceive the sugar content in those,” Micu said. “So what you’re looking for is a wine that’s going to have a lot more sugar.”
Sugar also becomes a critical component when finding a perfect pairing for a spicy dish because, as Micu points out, most spicy dishes also contain a fair amount of sugar. Also, he said, the contrast between spice and sugar works in your favor.
“Sometimes it’s very important to provide contrast,” Micu said. “This is one of those cases. What will off-set spice is sugar.”
In this case the dish was a spicy red chicken curry. With dishes such as this one, Micu recommends looking for a wine with low levels of alcohol but lots of sugar, which can be tricky, especially when looking for a red wine.
“The wine varieties that have sugar in them that are red tend to have a lot of alcohol in them, so look for something relatively neutral, mineral-driven and low in alcohol.
“When it comes to spicy foods, alcohol is almost like an incendiary, if you will” he added. “What you’re looking for is relatively low amounts of alcohol or, sometimes, for sugar. You want to extinguish the spice with sugar.”
The curry was matched with a CDP (which stands for Cotes de Paso), a grenache-dominate blend from Halter Ranch, and a blanc de noir, a sparkling wine made predominately from pinot noir grapes, from Gloria Ferrer. The CDP soothed the spice while the sparkling blanc de noir seemed to turn up the heat of the dish, which Micu says is common when you pair something sparkling with something spicy.
“You want to be careful with carbon dioxide and spice — sparkling wine, of course, has carbon dioxide — because it’s going to, in fact, contribute to a little bit of that incendiary feeling,” he said.
Another important fundamental to consider when creating a great pairing is acidity. Micu taught this lesson right out of the gate, during the first course, which included a romaine heart salad with cherry tomatoes, applewood smoked goat cheese and a sherry vinaigrette paired with both a red wine, a Portuguese tempranillo from Quinta do Mouro and a white wine, a sauvignon blanc from Huia Vineyards.
“In this case we have salad with vinaigrette, so the fundamental lesson here is matching acidity,” said Micu. “So if you have a wine that lacks acidity and you have a dish that contains a high amount of acidity, well what’s going to happen is that wine with lower acidity is going to flatten the flavor of the dish. So you want your wine to exceed the levels of acidity in the dish.”
If winners were being chosen from each pairing, then the sauvignon blanc offered no competition for the Quinta do Mouro. Micu agreed.
“So this goat cheese and the vinaigrette are tangy and the sauvignon blanc matches that acidity, it’s beautiful,” he said. “By themselves they’re good, but when you match them together it creates a Beach Boys-like harmony.”
When the salad is paired with the red, on the other hand, the experience is less harmonious. As Micu puts it, “it kind of puts a hole in the wine.”
“It’s not like a terrible thing, it’s not offensive, I can live with it,” Micu said. “But when you compare the two, which experience do you prefer? The pairing just doesn’t do the red wine here justice.”
This, he says, is all due to how the acidity in the sauvignon blanc matches that in the salad’s ingredients.
The final fundamental factor Micu shared relates to pairing oily, fishy foods such as the sardine pate crostini with a lemon aioli, which was served as the fourth course and paired with a Cline Cellars’ viognier and a Pazo do Gallegos albarino.
With this pairing, the albarino seemed slightly better suited for the sardines, cutting the fishy flavor and making the albarino pop.
The gist, Micu says, is to avoid wines high in tannins and phenolic compounds when creating a pairing with a fish with a high oil content, such as sardines.
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