What kind of food should you serve with fine wine?
Most of the time we’re pairing wine and food it’s the food that comes first but for people in the trade it’s more often about what food will flatter the wine. But how do you ensure a successful match?
I went to two top end wine dinners last week which took different approaches to the task. The first a tasting and dinner hosted simultaneously in Brussels, Hamburg and London by the Bureau Interprofessionel des Vins de Bourgogne showcased premier crus, especially Chablis, Meursault and Gevrey-Chambertin.
They decided on a four course menu with effectively two main courses - roast breast of chicken with pearl barley and vegetable risotto to showcase Maison Albert Bichot’s Domaine du Pavillon 2010 Meursault les Charmes and seared rump of lamb with borlotti bean, marrow and confit tomato cassoulet to go with a 2013 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos Prieur from Maison Louis Max.
The first course, which was paired with Nathalie and Gilles Fèvre’s 2010 Chablis Vaulorent was a a dish of very lightly cooked smoked fish with chive and lemon creme fraiche and ‘young leaves and shoots’
Picking out the flavours of the wines
Clearly the thinking had been to come up with pairings based on the flavours that could be found in or which complemented the wines. A trace of smokiness in the Chablis, for example, mirrored that in the fish, the cream offset it and the citrus picked up on the still fresh acidity of the wine. Chicken is invariably a safe bet with chardonnay so they were on solid ground with the Meursault, though the glazed shallot was an imaginative touch which particularly flattered the wine.
Interestingly a similar ingredient appeared in the other dinner, a very glamourous affair hosted in the Berry Bros & Rudd directors’ dining room. Here the caramelized note was provided by the glazed endive that was served in the first course with duck pastrami and crisp little gorgonzola fritters which picked up the rich golden character of the two 2004 burgundies they served, a La Sève du Clos Meursault from Arnaud Ente and a Le Montrachet Grand Cru from Domaine des Comtes Lafon. A particularly bold pairing that could only have come from road-testing the match with the wine or one very similar to it.
Should you save the best wine for the cheese?
Given they had both red burgundy and bordeaux to show off they went for the classic French solution of serving the burgundies - a 1999 Jacques-Frederic Mugnier Chambolle Musigny and a 1999 Gevrey-Chambertin Clos St Jacques from Domaine Armand Rousseau - with the main course (roast saddle of lamb with anchovy, parsley and mint) and the bordeaux with the cheese which I seem to recall, though things were slightly hazy by this stage, were a Rollright, a washed rind cheese made in the style of a Reblochon, a punchy Lincolnshire Poacher and a Shropshire Blue. Personally I found they didn’t really do the wines - a fragile 1945 (NO, that’s not a misprint - 1945!) Clos Fourtet St Emilion and an utterly glorious 1990 Chateau Margaux (for me the wine of the evening) many favours but what do you do? The sort of people who dine at Berry’s (mainly chaps of a certain age, I imagine) no doubt both expect cheese and to drink the best reds in the house with it. Personally I’d rather go with beef or lamb and if I had to serve cheese pick just one but again guests expect a proper cheeseboard, regardless of whether its contents detract from the wine or not. It’s a dilemma.
The burgundies did work beautifully with the lamb however.
Should you serve a sweet wine?
Desserts were also handled differently. Given that burgundy doesn’t produce sweet wine the BIVB didn’t serve anything with the refreshing lemon and honeycomb mousse they picked, which was accompanied by poached fruit, brown sugar meringue and almond brittle. It worked fine - you didn’t really need one - but an alternative might have been to serve a liqueur from the region from someone like Gabriel Boudier.
At Berry Brothers they decided to use the dessert course as a platform to show off a very special port - the Graham’s 90 Very Old Tawny Port that had been specially bottled to celebrate the Queen’s 90th birthday that happened to be that day (what a treat!). They boldly paired it with a chocolate delice with passion fruit curd and ginger ice cream which worked surprisingly well - it was still extraordinarily vibrant - though the cheese - especially the Shropshire Blue - would have worked too.
Apart from the use of caramelisation, one of the other interesting things I noted was the use of bitter ingredients, particularly in the main course lamb dish at the burgundy dinner which included olives, capers and preserved lemon - all of which tend to heighten the fruit in older wines. Other dishes employed anchovy, cavolo nero and rosemary to similar effect. Care was taken though not to overwhelm any of the dishes with over-flavourful vegetables or intense jus which could have knocked the stuffing out of these spectacular vintages.
Ideally you would have a run-through before a dinner of this kind but with old, rare and possibly priceless wines that might well not be possible. The key thing I think is to make sure the chef and front of house team both try the wines being poured with the food so they can consign it to their palate memories for a future occasion.
(Incidentally a neat trick from Berry Bros. They marked both the menu and the glasses with coloured dots so you could remember, in your befuddled state, which glass was which!)
I attended the dinners as a guest of the BIVB and Berry Bros & Rudd respectively.
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