Ideas for food and wine pairing notwithstanding, in existence are six basic ways to choose a right combination. They are:
- Fat. as pertinent to food
- Acid, as pertinent to wine
- Salt, as pertinent to food
- Sweetness, as pertinent to wine
- Bitterness, as pertinent to food
- Texture, as pertinent to wine
This lesson explored the relationship between food, fat, and texture.
Texture was first. Lightness or heaviness of wine makes a good determinant of appropriate food choice. Lighter wines like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc pair best with light foods like lightly dressed salads, while Kabinett Rieslings excel opposite salty Bratwurst. Meanwhile, full-flavored, occasionally tannic reds like Cabernet Sauvignon – and white wines like certain full-bodied Chardonnays – excel when paired with heavier foods. Consider a medium-rare filet opposite a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or fried chicken with a buttery California Chardonnay. Because of interplay between these elements, more flavors are revealed in menu item and beverage choice.
Next, the idea of fat content and its part with wine pairing. Wine is naturally a fat-free product, while certain meats and dairy are rich with fats that counterbalance acidity and soften tannin. This influence decreased, it opens the palate to taste the drink’s fruitier elements.
The wine poured following the lesson was Allegrini’s Sondraia, a Super Tuscan of 65% Cabernet Sauvignon, 25% Merlot, and 10% Cabernet Franc. Revealing characteristic qualities of blackberry, cassis, mocha, and baking spice, it exemplified wine’s part when paired with medium-rare filet. For, as theorized, when sipped after a bite of steak, the wine’s tannin level noticeably softened while creamier elements of the meat were exposed too.
It is that time of year.
With seasons quickly changing, it’s fair to assume that tastes alter too. For example, consider the popularity of a cold glass of rosé on a summery afternoon against a wintry day, when a boozy, warming glass of Cabernet or Syrah might seem a better fit. It seems safe to believe the same of a counterpart to wine, beer. That cold-fermented Pilsner certainly went down much more quickly after a hot afternoon spent mowing the lawn than on a chilly one when the car needed shoveled out. Right?
Two beers that signify that change were discussed today, Lagunitas Lil’ Sumpin’ Sumpin’ and Anderson Valley’s seasonally offered Winter Solstice. The first is an American Pale Wheat Ale, a Hefeweizen-inspired, substantially wheat-malted beer (51% wheat malt) introduced by the Petaluma brewery in 2009. It is particularly hoppy since the brewmaster uses all ten “C” hops, albeit in varying percentages, but smooth enough to evoke its German inspiration. The second was a Anderson Valley’s Winter Warmer, or Christmas Ale, whose annual release occurs between September and January. Designed to be malty rather than hoppy, such beers are characterized by wassail-like flavors like clove and cinnamon, with Anderson Valley keeping home fires burning with an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of 6.9.
Following last week’s example, class focus was a second blind tasting with use of Dr. Ann Noble’s Aroma Wheel, a round graph created in the ‘70s that separates scent and flavor into twelve basic categories and then expands to include more specific descriptors. Each person was handed an initial glass of wine – a Control taste to set the palate and provide room for contrast – and tastings of three others continued from there. Food was also supplied to help illustrate the relationship between food and wine, with appropriate item directed here by asterisk. Here are the findings.
- Earthy, with dusty character; Herbaceous, with dried tobacco; Fruity, with blackberry and strawberry flavor*
- Spicy, with a little red licorice and cinnamon; Fruity with strawberry; still, a bit inexpressive and light on the nose **
- Herbaceous, with dried tobacco; noticeable Spicy, with clove and black pepper; Fruity, with strawberry jam and black cherry**
In order and with varietal blend shown in parenthesis, here are the wines.
- Cryptic (Zinfandel, Petit Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Barbera, Merlot)
- R Collection Field Blend (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, PetitSyrah, Zinfandel)
- Hot to Trot Red Blend (Merlot, Syrah, Petit Verdot, Mourvedre)
*Lamb Chops (mid-rare)
**Baby Back Ribs
Seasonal changes to the beer list inspired reviews of two new offerings, one in can and the other in bottle.
The first sampled was Temperance Brewery’s “Smittytown ESB,” by classification an ale, yet more specifically linked to a general list of pale ales. However, unlike these beers, ESBs (short for “Extra Special Bitter) are darker in tone and display more palatable hop and malt content than other, unabashedly bitter IPA counterparts. And even if a bit coy in aroma, the Smittytown succeeds with substantial texture and present, if not pleasant, hop finish. It is served by can, and is a perfect companion for a medium rare burger.
Left Hand Milk Stout was in hand next. It is a Milk Stout, a more specific classification of Sweet Stout in which disaccharide lactose is introduced to promote elements of sweetness and cream (Contrastingly, Sweet Stouts have unfermented sugars added while in vat to raise pleasant taste). The ale stands very well by itself, with rich espresso, chocolate, and coffee notes. It comes in a bottle.
Food scientist Ann Noble invented the Aroma Wheel while employed at the University of California-Davis in the mid-1970s. Over the decades, her model – which breaks wine scent down into twelve broad categories and then continues to delineate each into more specific components – has eased difficulties in wine-tasting by providing cues to unidentifiable smells and flavors. We worked with Noble’s creation while blind-tasting six wines listed by glass, the majority of which were new. Here were the findings*.
- Fruity, with notes of citrus and tree fruit (apple)*
- Floral, suggesting orange blossom; Microbiological, with intonation of lees (expired yeast cells that intone cream) and yogurt: Woody, with implied vanilla
- Fruity, with tree fruits apple and peach; Woody with vanilla and oak
- Fruity, especially showing dried fruit like prune and strawberry jam*
- Earthy, with characters of dust; Chemical with fairly expressed kerosene; Fruity with berry fruit (black currant)
- Expressive, with Herbaceous qualities like canned/cooked black olive; Fruity ones like [berry fruit] blackberry jam; and Woody elements like smoke and [resinous] cedar.
In order of sampling, the wines were:
- Hess Chardonnay
- Bonanno Chardonnay
- Trefethen Chardonnay
- Alamos Malbec
- Mountain Door Malbec
- Killka Malbec Blend (50% Malbec, 35% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah, 5% Petit Verdot)
*Note: The first wine tasted was entry-level for each listed varietal. It was not to be assessed. Rather, it served as the initial illustration.
As discussed last week, affable Cabernet Sauvignon grows well in different environments because of its thick skin and adaptability. Whether in Chile, Australia’s Coonawarra Valley, or Bordeaux vineyards, it still capably manages to create wines of substantial quality, with broader tannin and characteristic cassis and black fruit character. This week, exploration of the varietal continues, only with specific discussion about conditions in Napa County and Washington’s Red Mountain AVA that allow it to thrive and, ultimately, to produce world-class wine.
Found northeast of San Francisco, Napa County’s various appellations and districts are renowned for their Cabernet and Merlot. Famous AVAs (American Viticultural Areas) like Oakville, Rutherford, Mount Veeder, and the Stag’s Leap District are hailed for wines like Miner and Plumpjack (Oakville), Rutherford Hill and Beaulieu Vineyards (Rutherford), Mount Veeder and Tate (Mount Veeder), and famous Stag’s Leap (Stag’s Leap). Why? Because each area can ably cultivate Bordeaux varietals due to (a) inclination, (b) average temperature, and (c) soil content. These are what keep Napa Valley Cabernets in the top tier, these and a crew of talented winemakers, anyway. In fact, it’s because of grapevines grown on the valley’s famous William Hill Estate, found in AVA Atlas Peak, that winemaker Gina Gallo can source grapes for Gallo Signature Series Cabernet Sauvignon. Blending Atlas Peak juice with portions of Petit Verdot from Sonoma County’s Monte Rosso vineyard, she has made a food appropriate wine with mouth-filling cassis, dark cherry and noticeable varietal characteristics.
Hundreds of miles north lay the vineyards of Washington’s Red Mountain AVA, where winemaker and Washington native Brian Rudin sources fruit for Canvasback Cabernet Sauvignon. The newest label within the Duckhorn imprint – and the only Washington contribution – grapes from the area grow along gentle slopes of sand, silt, and gravel in temperatures that can reach 90̊. Sugars development within them and acidity plummets, providing a framework for a lush wine comprised of majority Cabernet Sauvignon, with insignificant amounts of Merlot and Malbec. Soft, its nose suggests cocoa, cinnamon, and black fruit before these aspects combine in flavor, finishing with tea-like qualities and velvety tannin.
To show at their best, Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir require two very different environments. The latter varietal asks for a generally cooler climate because of its thin skin and finicky nature, and it requires requisite amounts of sunlight, too, for photosynthesis to occur suitably. With conditions met, fuller development of all grapes’ sugars occurs, and, consequently, with decreased acidity they allow any wine produced to be more fully flavored. Suitable cultivation areas are Sonoma County’s Russian River Valley, France’s Burgundy region, and southernmost Central Otego, found on New Zealand’s southern island. Conversely, Cabernet Sauvignon is relatively easy to grow. Like Pinot Noir, it requires a requisite amount of sunlight for sugars to develop to their fullest extent. But, unlike its more delicately bodied counterpart, its thicker skin leaves it less susceptible to disease as it develops in one of the many soils it prefers. Greatest areas for Cabernet Sauvignon include French Bordeaux, Chile’s Rapel Valley, and a slender strip in Australia called Coonawarra.
Examples tonight were of each varietal, yet neither was produced with fruit from the aforementioned areas. Elouan Pinot Noir – made by Belle Glos winemaker Joseph Wagner (fourth generation of the Wagner family) – it is a full-bodied Pinot Noir made from Oregon grapes whose separate origins are the Rogue, Umpqua, and Willamette Valleys. Characterized by black cherry and cranberry, it is a full-bodied, silky wine that might accompany dishes like pepper-crusted salmon and leaner cuts of steak. Next was Hess Shirttail Cabernet Sauvignon, the result of grapes grown mostly in Lake County’s Red Hill AVA, found in California. Smooth, it expressed fair amounts of tobacco, cassis, and black cherry on its nose, with enough peppery aftertaste to be enjoyed alone, yet bettered by a cut of seasoned steak.