Saturday, June 13, 2009

Battle Royale...The Sweet Science of Wine Pairing & Transformation

I've always thought that wine and food make music when they come together. Sometimes it's raucous, sometimes it's serene and sometimes it's profound, ponderous. But there is almost always a difference between having wine (and assessing it) on its own vs. with a complimentary meal. I was reminded of this just a couple of days ago, while speaking to a group of corporate clients at the Pluckemin Inn on Thursday. It got me to thinkin'...

I walked everyone through a comparative tasting of classic French and Italian wines. My idea was to keep it real, as in true, indigenous varietals made in the traditional fashion. No pumped up, micro-oxygenated, cone-spun, water added, over-extracted, tuti-frutti, Johnny-Come-Lately's allowed! We began with a delicious Champagne, NV Gatinois Champagne Brut Ay Grand Cru , which was superb with its toasty, zippy, copper-tinged Petit Pinot d'Ay fruit. We stayed with that wine through the amuse and then dived into two whites from 2007, the fantastic Ronchi di Cialla Colli Orientali del Friuli "Cialla Bianco" and the Domaine Bzikot Puligny Montrachet AC. Right out of the box the Bzikot was all pedigree, minerals and definition, the way more exuberent wine. On the surface it didn't seem like a fair fight, like sticking me in the ring with Lennox Lewis. But I'm scrappy, and so is the Ronchi di Cialla, so with a bit of air time AND the dish presented (Scallops, White Eggplant Puree & Riviera sauce) which had just a hint of honey character, Ronchi transformed like a pheonix and made music. It was tremendous! And like the true champion, the Bzikot put on a brilliant display as well, but slight nod to the underdog.

Next up, we gave Piemonte a chance to bump heads with Burgundy as we pitted the 2001 Scarzello Barolo Vigna Merenda against the 2002 Domaine des Chezeaux Chambolle Musigny Les Charmes 1er cru. Ah, now there's a match of heavyweights! Decanting the Barolo for 2 hours prior gave it the early lead in aromatics and presence, but never underestimate Laurent Ponsot's accumen. And never underestimate Chambolle Les Charmes ability to allow the flavors of Organic Zucchini Risotto, Parmesan, Roasted Quail & Squash Blossom Tempura to envelope your senses. The Barolo actually was amazing on its own, but when the food arrived, I longed for red meat or maybe a veal chop. The Chezeaux was magic with the dish as its delicate fragrance yet deep and penetrating black cherry fruit soared.

In the final Smackdown, we aimed to create a deathmatch of the quintessential regions of each country, Bordeaux and Brunello di Montalcino. 2005 La Gravette de Certan Pomerol was pitted against the 2003 Collemattoni Brunello di Montalcino. Once again, the Bordeaux was decanted 2 hours prior giving it excellent pronounced aromas of blackberry, plums, spice and graphite. The Collemattoni is the best 2003 Brunello I have tasted (after sampling scores of disappointments) and it showed like the supremely balanced wine it is on that night. When the cooked-to-perfection Roasted Lamb, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Crushed Spring Potatoes, Favas & Young Onion arrived, I was hard pressed to decide which was better. But what a difference with the food. The earthy, gamy tones of each wine came to the fore and the fruit seemed to explode with vibrancy. Just the ever-so-slight advantage to the Pomerol, despite my Bordeaux bias against, it was other-worldy stuff, only in need of another decade of cellaring.

The Pluckemin Inn rocked it out once again, and with the battle over and the blood drawn, I was left with just one thought...

What's for dessert? Professional Pig, at your service!

JCB the 4th

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