Food & Wine Pros | Organising a wine and seafood pairing dinner

Food & Wine Pros

Organising a wine and seafood pairing dinner

Last night we had a fun five course wine and food matching dinner at Rockfish Grill in Bristol which showed the range of wines you can match with fish. Here’s a few thoughts about how we approached it for those of you who are organising a similar event.

* The kitchen’s priorities are different from those of whoever is chosing wine. The chef wants to create a menu that shows off their signature dishes and make sure his or her team can deliver it. The wine person wants to make sure each course will work with wine. So it’s a compromise. We dropped two dishes - anchoïade on toast and ‘Bismarck’ herring with onion and dill which would have been tough on wine.

* We gave a choice of two wines for most of the courses to provide two contrasting options and allow some feedback from the guests.

* We introduced the guests to some wines they were unlikely to know such as Picpoul de Pinet. That’s the great advantage of a wine dinner - you can experiment in a way you might hesitate to do if you were ordering wine in a restaurant.

* We created two controversial (to some) pairings in the form of red wine with fish and sweet wine with cheese - both well received.

* Most of the discussion about the wines took place at the beginning of the evening. It’s important when people are going out for what can be quite an expensive evening with friends that you leave them time to talk and enjoy the wine and food. You can always go round the tables and discuss the pairings with them individually.

This is the menu that chef Mitch Tonks of Rockfish Grill chose and my pairings:

Razor clams grilled over the fire
Dartmouth crab with salad and mayonnaise
Goujons of lemon sole with tartare sauce

This choice of 3 starters was served with a Picpoul de Pinet 2008 from the Vignerons de Florensac, a simple, very crisp, Muscadet-like white and a contrasting much more complex aged Sauvignon St-Bris vieilles vignes 2006 from Clothilde Davenne. (St-Bris is just next door to the Chablis region) The general feeling was the Picpoul worked best with the goujons and crab, especially the white meat and the Sauvignon with the more robust cooked clams.

Scallops roasted in the shell with white port and garlic
We went for two totally contrasting wines with this course, Mitch’s own Tonnix, a crisp zesty Portuguese white from Quinta de la Rosa and a much richer white burgundy St-Véran Domaine des Deux Roches Burgundy 2007. The St-Véran, the more classic match, overwhelmingly proved the favourite choice but I really liked the fresh, palate-cleansing effect of the Tonnix too.

Cuttlefish braised in Chianti with borlotti beans
This robust seafood stew was a natural for red wine with the typically Italian 2005 Trescone, Lamborghini a blend of Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo and Merlot. providing a refreshing counterpoint to the red wine sauce and mealy beans. Better than any of the whites I thought.

Grilled Monkfish with fennel
A dish that worked with three of the wines: the Trescone because monkfish is a meaty fish and grilling or roasting fish makes it more likely to go with a red (a lot of guests enjoyed this); with the Tonnix (a crisp, citrussy counterpoint but with enough personality to stand up to the grilling) and the St-Véran (white burgundy is great with rich fish and especially with fennel and cream which is almost always a good match with Chardonnay)

Gorgonzola with honey
Most agreed that the sweet wine we served - Domaine la Hilaire Jardin D’Hiver from the Gers in south-west France, a blend Petit & Gros Manseng - worked much better than the Trescone with the cheese - a first experience of the combination for a number of the guests.

Mitch also served a rhubarb and campari trifle which obviously contained its own booze so we didn’t attempt to pair wine with that!

So, a good way to spend an evening with great food and wine and the opportunity to pick up a few tips along the way. Wine dinners can be a lot of fun.

If you’d like me to help your organise or speak at a wine dinner contact me on the enquiry form at the bottom of the page.

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Photo by Alex Favali

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