Impress your dinner company tonight |

Impress your dinner company tonight

Laura A. Ball
Bret Hartman/Vail DailyKate Sheldon makes a sour face to Steve Mairose after eating a piece of an apple with salt and lemon on it and taking a drink of a pinot noir during the progressive food menu seminar at the Marriott in Vail. The seminar is part of the Taste of Vail which a gave participants a lesson on how to pair food with wine.

VAIL – “I can’t wait to go home tonight and cook,” Beth Sprow of East Vail told Jerry Comfort on Thursday after the Taste of Vail Progressive Food Menu seminar at the Vail Marriott Mountain Resort and Spa in Lionshead. “It’s just so much fun. I’m really inspired.”

Sprow, who has cooked for years and loves pairing wine with her homemade cuisine, said she appreciated how Comfort made the theory on the balance of wine and food so simple to understand. It took Comfort, director of wine education for Berringer Blass Wine Estates, 14 years of exploring how wine and food interact on a plate to help develop that theory. “I knew what I was doing, I just had trouble communicating it,” Comfort told the crowd of 60. He knew what made a wine taste great with food and why four people could go out to dinner, all order separate entrees and still find the same bottle of wine delicious. “Always try the wine first. You want to taste it the way the winemaker intended it,” Comfort said. “And food changes the way wine tastes,” a phrase Comfort repeated throughout the seminar. “The dominant taste in food (sweet, sour, salty, bitter and the protein taste “umami”) will change all wines the same way to a lesser or greater degree.”

The way food changes the taste of wine is something that’s hard to believe until you taste it for yourself. Comfort asked everyone to taste the gewurztramineer, a light, fruity wine with no oak flavor. After taking a bite of a sweet apple and trying the wine again, it tasted sour. With the acidic taste of lemon, the wine became sweeter. The difference was amazing. The lesson, Comfort said, sweet dominated foods reduce wine aromas and make wine textures (acidity, bitterness, astringency and tannins) stronger. The sweetness in the apple brought out the wine’s light, fruity zest. Next patrons were asked to taste the chardonnay, which had a smoky, vanilla and banana flavor. The chardonnay paired with the apple made the wine seem more sour, bitter and dry. The chardonnay with the lemon made the wine richer, milder, less acidic, Comfort’s conclusion here is sour and salt dominated foods make wine textures smoother and sweeter, and can accentuate aromas. The acidity lowers your perception of acid in the wine, making it milder, the same way salt makes a sour margarita less bitter.

Comfort experimented with the other tastes, salty, bitter and “umami,” which means deliciousness and refers to the protein taste. Each time the reaction was the same: “oohs” and “aahs” resounding from guests in disbelief at how a wine’s flavor could change that much. But when you think about it, the reactions make sense.”Sure, food and wine is all about the romance, but doesn’t it take good chemistry to make good romance,” Comfort asked.To assure good chemistry with just about any wine and food pairing, start with the food. The reason it is possible to go out to dinner and order one bottle of wine, red or white, and feel confident it will compliment both a grilled fish and a well-seasoned steak is because the food is well-balanced.Comfort has found that when the tastes in food are balanced, with no one taste dominating another, the wine remains relatively unchanged, just as the winemaker intended.As for desserts, his general rule of thumb is to serve dessert wines that are sweeter than the dish so the wine’s acidity will not be pronounced.

Wine and food pairing is not an exact science, as not everyone’s taste buds and preferences are the same. If you want to play it safe, Comfort has the answer.”Keep the food simple and the wine will shine.” Staff Writer Laura A. Ball can be reached at 949-0555, ext. 619, or Colorado

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