As 2020 comes to an end, Chef Fabien Pairon, Senior Lecturer in Practical Arts and ‘Meilleur Ouvrier de France’, joins Alexandre Centeleghe, Lecturer in Oenology, for some seasonal winter food and wine pairing suggestions.
When thinking of a food and wine pairing, it is important to understand the interaction between the 5 tastes the human tongue perceives: sweetness, acidity, saltiness, bitterness and umami.
Sweet food goes well with still or sparkling wines that have some sweetness in them in order for the wines to not feel bitter and bland in the pairing.
Fresh food such as seafood, fish or cold meals suit wines with good levels of acidity in order for the pairing to be balanced and digestible.
Salt is a wine-friendly element that enhances the freshness, fruit and body of a wine and therefore allows for a vast choice of pairings.
Bitterness is not always wine’s best companion. With bitter or umami meals, it is best to avoid wines with high level of tannins and herbaceous character. Fruity, fresh, light to medium-bodied white or reds are often favored in these situations.
Ultimately, the wine's profile and its range of sweetness, acidity, alcohol, body and flavour intensity that needs to balance well with the dish.
With such advice in mind, let’s tuck into some seasonal pairing suggestions through 6 selected dishes.
1. Lobster salad with citrus fruits and calamondin vinegar
A festive dish to start a delightful dinner. Fresh and flavorful, it is best paired with a light-bodied sparkling white wine. Champagne seems appropriate for the occasion. The bubble and high acidity will provide freshness and structure, matching the citrus and vinegar acidity levels, and perfectly balancing the lobster’s noble flesh and taste.
Go for a Blanc de Noirs cuvées with majority of black-skinned grape varieties in the blend (Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier) to get more structure and red berries flavors. For a pure and ripe character, try out Champagne Jacquesson 742. For a deep and vinous character, try a Champagne Egly-Ouriet Les Vignes de Vrigny Premiers Crus which is a 100% Pinot Meunier.
2. Hummus and oriental vegetables with a pomegranate and cumin tuile
A hearty veggie dish to enjoy any time of the year. Texturally rich and finely aromatic, it will be best paired with a medium-bodied, still white wine with refreshing acidity. A bright expression of Chardonnay with a ripe citrus character would be a great choice. Its freshness and fruitiness will cut through the dense texture of the humus and make it deliciously digestible.
Look at examples from the coastal region of the Western Cape in South Africa. Ocean currents and breezes help produce crisp white wines with beautiful fruit definition and intensity. For an elegant and perfumed character, choose Klein Constantia from Constantia. For a deep and mineral character, go for Hamilton Russel Vineyards from Walker Bay.
3. Freshly seared scallops with a nutty crust and Noilly Prat butter
A revisited classic of the end of year celebrations. Refined and tasty, it goes well with a light-bodied still white wine that has a crisp and zesty acidity. A Sauvignon Blanc with a restraint fruit character and mineral complexity would be just fine here. It provides a zesty freshness that perfectly matches with the scallops’ delicate flesh and balance the hearty Noilly Prat butter sauce.
If you are looking for classical examples, go for a terroir-driven Sancerre from Domaine Vacheron in the Loire. If you would like an elegant and complex Sauvignon Blanc outside of Europe, try out the Cloudy Bay Te Koko from New Zealand.
4. Guinea fowl supreme with a fruit mendiant crust, lightly smoked mashed potatoes and a cabbage confit
An autumn dish full of color, scent and flavor. It suits a light-bodied red wine with a red fruit and floral character. Pinot Noir would be a partner of choice here. Its perfumed aromas and crisp acidity will balance the richness of this delicious dish with all its components.
For classical examples, stay with a Burgundy and try refreshing reds from organic winemaker Sylvain Pataille in Marsannay, Côte de Nuits. For more discoveries, look for refined Oregon Pinot Noirs on the US West Coast such as Drouhin Oregon or Domaine Serene from Willamette Valley.
5. Veal breast stuffed with mushrooms, dauphine potato, apple and pumpkin
A comforting dish for the upcoming winter nights. Heart-warming and rich, it is best paired with a medium-bodied red wine of a ripe dark fruit character and a velvety texture. Syrah could be a good bet here. Its medium to high levels of tannins will bring structure to the veal and its fruit intensity will match the flavors of the apple and pumpkin.
The Rhône valley in France is the cradle of Syrah wine. For a concentrated, terroir-driven example, try out a classic at a reasonable price, Alain Graillot’s Croze-Hermitage. For another example of a fruity, terroir-driven Syrah outside of Europe, look for Craggy Range’s wines from Gimblett Gravels, Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand.
6. Beef Wellington fillet with a gratin of Chinese artichokes and black truffle cardoons
One of the great favorites for the end of the year. Intensely fragrant and tasty, it calls for a full-bodied red wine with high levels of fine-grained tannins and a ripe black fruit character. Bordeaux grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Merlot will pair well with this dish, as the wine levels of tannins perfectly combine with the proteins of the red meat. The wine’s fruit intensity will also enhance the black truffle component of the dish.
For a rich, softly textured and fruity Right Bank Bordeaux, France, check Domaine de l’A from Stéphane Derenoncourt in Côtes de Castillon (Merlot and Cabernet Franc). For a classical and sturdy Bordeaux blend, go for Peter Michael Winery’s velvety and earthy California’s Napa Valley “Au Paradis” (Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc).