Every year Thing 1’s school has a major Spring fundraiser where they auction off various gifts and experiences. This year I was feeling particularly generous (they drive me bat shit crazy sometimes which causes me to be disgruntled) so decided to offer up a wine and food pairing experience at my home as an auction item. I called it my “Global Wine and Food Adventure.” I actually had fun putting together the menu and choosing the wines. At times I was a little stressed as I kept having to taste wines (yeah I know it’s a good problem to have) to get the right one. I wasn’t sure who would bid on it, but I wanted to offer up wines that were accessible and affordable. With the exception of the Ice Wine, all of the wines were under $25. I chose seven wines from seven different countries.
I wanted to do six but couldn’t seem to eliminate a wine. And I kept the food simple and even picked up various dishes from restaurants around town.
I even set a nice table (I’m not really a formal person) and created menus with information on the wines and food as well as some interesting tidbits.
So here’s a recap of the wine and food pairing adventure.
Wine: Jaume Serra Cristalino Brut Cava, Spain (NV)
Food: Truffle Parmesan Popcorn
Why the Pairing: Sparkling wine loves fat and salt. It is high in acidity which cuts through the fat and salt. Acidity generally makes you want “another one” as the bubbles act as a palate cleanser.
FYI: Cava is a Spanish wine made using the same method as French Champagne, just using different grapes (Macabeu, Xarel-lo, and Paralleda) and at a fraction of the price. It can be produced throughout Spain but most Cava is made in Penedes (next to Barcelona) and in the Ebro River valley (in Rioja). This wine is a blend of 50% Macabeu, 35% Parellada, and 15% Xarel-lo.
Wine: MAN “Free-Run Steen” Chenin Blanc, South Africa (2015)
Food: Caprese Salad
Why the Pairing: Tomatoes always present a challenge when paring wine because they have so much acidity. So for fresh, raw tomatoes, we want a wine a wine with a similar profile – a wine that is crisp, lean, with bright acidity. A fuller-bodied, lower acid wine such as an oaked Chardonnay would lose its flavors and seem flat when paired with tomatoes.
FYI: Chenin Blanc originated in the Loire Valley of France. Because of its acidity, it can be made into wines ranging from sparkling wine to dessert wine. The most famous expression of Chenin Blanc is the off-dry Vouvray from France’s Loire Valley. But South Africa is now the largest producer of Chenin Blanc (originally known as Steen) and generally produces a style that is much drier and crisper.
Wine: Trimbach Gewurztraminer from Alsace, France (2013)
Food: Prosciutto and Melon
Why the Pairing: The aromatic, perfume, character of the Gewurztraminer complements the melon, while the saltiness of the prosciutto makes a nice counterpoint to the wine’s fruitiness.
FYI: One of the very aromatic wine grapes, Gewurztraminer originated in Italy by an accidental mutation of Sauvignon Blanc but is best known as being produced in the Alsace region of France. Referred to by some as the grown-up version of Moscato, but tends to be a bit higher in alcohol and lower in acidity. All of these characteristics often make it taste sweeter than it is.
Wine: Marchesi di Gresy Barbera D’Asti, Italy (2012)
Food: Mushroom Risotto
Why the Pairing: Think rustic, comfort foods for this one. A dish such as this begs for an earthy wine such as Barbera or Nebbiolo from Italy or a Pinot Noir from Burgundy or Oregon. Mushrooms tend to complement Barbera very well. All that acidity in the wine will round out a rich or fatty dish.
FYI: Barbera is like the red-headed stepchild to the mighty Nebbiolo (used to make Barolo and Barbaresco), but is easy to drink, enjoyable, and very inexpensive. Wine for the common folk! And you don’t have to wait decades to drink it! It’s grown in the Piedmont region of Italy.
Wine: Dry Creek Vineyard Heritage Vines Zinfandel, Sonoma County (2014)
Food: BBQ Pulled Pork with Slaw
Why the Pairing: All that ripe jam and red fruit puts Zin on the “sweeter” side of red wines so it can stand up to some zesty BBQ sauce or curry. When pairing foods with sauce, you’re looking to pair with the sauce rather than the underlying food. Since sauces can have spice, sweetness, etc. and generally put a food over the top, you also want your wine to be over the top.
FYI: This was America’s claim to fame as the one grape that originated in the states…until DNA testing discovered that it was same as Italy’s Primitivo which has been around for centuries. Oh well, but we’ll still claim it as ours! A typical Zin gives us the bold, fruity tastes (think jam, plum, ripe red fruit) that many American palates prefer. The wine is a bit of a chameleon as it leans more toward Pinot Noir with its lighter body, but its moderate tannins also pull it in the direction of a Cab. And be careful, all that ripe fruit leaves you with some pretty high alcohol levels!
Wine: Altos los Hormigas Uco Valley Malbec, Argentina (2011)
Food: Beef Empanada with Green Onion Ranch
Why the Pairing: Foods with a lot of fat and protein like red meat can soften the effects of tannins. That’s why we love a big bold Cabernet Sauvignon and a ribeye. Malbec is a bit less tannic than Cab, and tends to pair better with leaner red meat. Beef empanadas are a truly iconic Argentinian dish. What better than a truly iconic Malbec with its dark cherry notes and supple tannins to complement the lean beef.
FYI: So like just about everything else, Malbec originated in France. But it was Argentina that saved Malbec. The use of the grape was in decline in France and is used primarily in blending Right Bank Bordeaux. Today, Argentina has over 70% of the world’s planting of Malbec. They truly made Malbec cool again.
Wine: Peller Estate Ice Wine, Canada (2012)
Food: Caramel Apple Pie Tart, Creme Caramel Pecan, Aged Cheddar
Why the Pairing: First, the wine should always be sweeter than the dessert – otherwise it will taste flat and lifeless. The sweetness of the food actually works to make the wine taste less sweet. You want a dessert wine with some acidity so the wine tastes fresh and clean and not cloyingly sweet.
FYI: Vidal Blanc is a hybrid grape that was developed in France for use in Cognac but due to its winter hardiness is used extensively in ice wine production. These Vidal grapes are harvested from Niagara-on-the-lake vineyards at -10 degrees Celsius / 14 degrees Fahrenheit.
All in all I think it was a successful event. We got to meet some new parents from school, they all seemed to enjoy themselves, and I learned even more about wine during the planning process. Who knows, I may host wine and food pairing Part Deux next year.