You may think tasting wine sounds arduous but a major wine and food tasting, I assure you, is a much greater assault on the system as I was reminded the other day when Victoria Moore of The Guardian and I ran 14 Pinot Gris through their paces with foods that ranged from smoked eel to chicken tikka masala. Neither of us was able to eat much for several days.
It was all in the good cause of identifying exactly what the best matches were for Pinot Gris, an aromatic white which usually has a touch of sweetness, making it pair with an entirely different range of foods from its cousin Pinot Grigio. It’s original home is Alsace but fine versions are now being made in New Zealand, Oregon and Australia, especially Tasmania. In Alsace it’s often matched with pâté and creamy sauces but it also pairs particularly well with smoked and spicy foods.
You can read Victoria’s account and wine recommendations in The Guardian today. Here are my comments and conclusions, rated as follows:
*** Great match, the best of the tasting
** A good match
* An OK match but one which slightly diminishes the food or the wine
No stars: A misfiring match
Smoked eel and horseradish sauce
I was rather more excited by this combination than Victoria. I thought it went particularly well with the lighter, crisper styles of Pinot Gris such as Pirie’s South Pinot Gris 2006 (**) from the Tamar Valley in Tasmania and Josmeyer’s rather expensive Le Fromenteau 2004 (***) from Alsace. A Finca Las Higueras Pinot Gris (*) from Lurton, an inexpensive Pinot Gris from Argentina, and a useful all-rounder was OK too though not if you're not into eel, obviously.
Always a tricky match because of the herbal notes of the dill and sweetness of the mustard sauce. When it works, as it did with the 2006 Waimea Estate Pinot Gris (**) from New Zealand which had quite a marked touch of sweetness, it’s great. When it doesn’t, as it did with some of the other bottles we tried, it totally misfires.
A Brussels-type pâté with mushrooms
Not a great success with any of the wines but it wasn't a particularly interesting paté. We suspected a foie gras terrine might have been a better match (though given the volume of food we had to try, thankfully we didn't have any handy . . . )
Creamy mushrooms on toast.
This is the kind of sauce that would be served in Alsace so no surprise it worked with our two Alsace wines, an inexpensive Pinot Gris 2004 (**) from Turkheim and the Josmeyer above (***). Victoria was less impressed.
Pan-fried salmon with nam phrik num dressing
The salmon on its own wasn’t a great match but once Peter Gordon’s exotically, sweet, spicy dressing was added (for recipe click here) it was a different story. Possibly the best match of the tasting especially with sweeter styles like the Waimea Estate (***) above or the floral Tamar Ridge 2006 (***), another Pinot Gris from Tasmania.
Roast scallops with pancetta
An OK match with the lighter, drier styles but a decent Chardonnay would have worked better.
Thai fish cakes
Although shop bought, these were quite hot and aromatic, making them a natural for Pinot Gris. The styles that worked best were the simple wines like the Turkheim (**) or the more fresh, floral styles such as the Pirie (**) and Tamar Ridge (**). A rich, tropical Pinot Gris from Tim Adams (**) in the Clare Valley was also good but the Waimea tasted too sweet.
Thai Green Chicken Curry
We souped up this supermarket version with some extra lime juice and coriander to make it taste more authentic. On the whole most of the wines worked pretty well, the best matches being the Tamar Ridge 2006 (**) from Tasmania and the Villa Maria Private Bin 2006 (**) from New Zealand, both of which were quite aromatic.
Chicken Tikka Masala
Surprise, surprise! So this is what goes with CTM! A really good match for a number of the wines, including the Villa Maria (**), Tamar Ridge (**) and full bodied Elk Cove Pinot Gris 2005 (**) from Oregon.
Fried goats cheese with membrillo
A new one on me. I usually serve membrillo (a Spanish quince paste) with a sheep’s cheese such as Manchego but it’s really delicious with warm oozy goats cheese. And with a crisp Pinot Gris. The Turkheim (**), Josmeyer (**) and Tamar Ridge (**) all worked well, as did the off-dry Waimea (**).
1) Pinot Gris is potentially a really useful match for spicy food, especially Indian, Thai and fusion dishes with a touch of sweetness.
2) Inexpensive bottles such as the Turkheim and Finca Las Higueras are a good place to start especially with ready meals. More expensive wines - and we particularly liked the two we tried from Tasmania - play better with the cleaner, brighter flavours of home-made dishes
3) Spot-on matching with Pinot Gris is tricky because of the fluctuating levels of sweetness between different bottles so if you want to show off the wine to best effect, have a dry run first. (Note the hotter the dish the more sweetness you need in the wine)
4) This was far too much food for any rational human being to taste on one occasion. Don’t try this at home!