Watching June throughout the event, as she tasted in an intentional order each time, explained her thought process, and described the flavors was a great bit of education in wine and food pairing. She explained her general wine pairing approach and how she helps other people pick wines. She said choosing a wine should start simply enough with narrowing the field of options to what you really like. If there are wines on a list that are types you don’t like, just rule them out, and don’t force something on your palate that you don’t like. Next, it’s important to match the weight or body of a wine to that of the food that’s being served. A light, crisp wine feels out of place with a rich, unctuous meat dish. Then, flavors come into play. The sweetness of a wine and how it would balance with the food is a big consideration. Once you’ve narrowed your options based on those points, you can begin to think about what to enhance about both the food and the wine. The flavors of both will be affected by the pairing, and the result should be an improvement in the experience of what’s on the plate and what’s in the glass. Specifics about how that happens were revealed each time June discussed her pairings during the Wine Ride.
Our first stop was Antonelli’s Cheese Shop where June was given six different cheeses varying from Coupole (a fresh, young goat's milk cheese from Vermont Butter and Cheese Co.) to Tomme Crayeuse ("crayeuse," meaning chalk, is a cow's milk cheese from the Savoie region in France), served with 2008 Domaine D’Ardhuy Ladoix Rouge Les Chagnots Monopole and N.V. Thierry Massin Brut Champagne. Ladoix is a Burgundy commune in the Cote de Beaune which focuses mostly on reds made from Pinot Noir and Thierry Massin is a grower-producer from the Cote des Bars, the most southern sub-region of Champagne, with soils similar to that of Chablis and whose main focus is the Pinot Noir variety. June wanted to acquaint herself with the cheeses first to form an initial impression of which wine she thought would be right with each. None of the cheeses were overwhelming in aroma and the flavors all included some salty minerality. The champagne was light and refreshing and was great with cheeses that were creamy and dry and made you want to take a drink. That made the champagne and the coupole a consideration. However, while working along the stronger side of the cheeseboard with the Ladoix, June said “the earthiness is singing to me.” The fruity, fresh, cherry tones of the wine were working, and anything heavier than the Ladoix would have overpowered these cheeses. Ultimately, her choice was the Pleasant Ridge Reserve, which is an artisanal farmstead cheese from Wisconsin’s Upland Cheese Co., and the Ladoix because both tasted better together. The Pleasant Ridge Reserve is made from cow’s milk in the style of traditional French alpine cheese and was recently named America’s best cheese in 2010 by the American Cheese Society. Pairing it with the Ladoix brought out more flavors at the finish than were there at the start, and that’s the sign of a great pairing, says June. The ten minute time limit flew by, so with the first pairing completed, we rushed out the door and on our way to stop number two.
The next location on our list was Fino where four meat dishes awaited with one glass each of 2008 Chateau St. Jean de la Gineste Corbieres Vieilles Vignes (a blend of 85% Carignan and 15% Grenache from one of the largest wine regions in the south of France, Corbieres) and 2008 Domaine d’Ardhuy Bourgogne Rouge (a 3rd generation Burgundy producer putting fruit from 50 year old vines into this Bourgogne Rouge). In this situation, it was all about highlighting a protein in the best way possible. Both wines had a cleansing effect with these dishes. There was a chicken ballantine with nice, salty chicken skin and a peppery taste on the finish that paired well with the Corbieres. The pork belly was topped with a sweet and spicy mustard-based sauce which met well with the lush, richness of the wines, but the sweetness in the sauce dimmed the wines’ fruit. June noted, “Sometimes you just want to be happy and not think about a pairing too hard. You just want it to go together.” Sweetness was also an issue with the jamon serrano croquettes in that the ham’s sweetness didn’t work with the Bourgogne. Ultimately, the best combination was the beef short ribs with the Corbieres. The wine’s sweetness was there, and the salt, the stock in the sauce, and the earthiness of the mushrooms all came forward. It was just right without even having to think about it. Time was up, and on we raced.
We arrived at Central Market Cooking School where Chef Christina Lee had prepared six dishes and glasses of 2008 Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains (a predominantly Savigny Les Beaunes producer, with great value Burgundy) and 2008 Dominique Mugneret Bourgogne Rouge were poured. This was a lot to taste and compare in ten short minutes. There was salmon with a smoked gouda panko crust, cod with chive buerre blanc, chicken pot pie, lasagna with creamed swiss chard and rabbit confit, roast chicken with polenta, and pork tenderloin with mushroom ragu. June immediately felt like all the dishes could work with a white wine pairing. The chard lasagna was good with the Simon Bize, but the wine was mineral- and salt-driven while the lasagna was more delicate. In the end, the lasagna tasted bland with the wine. The polenta was a good salt pairing with the Simon Bize and offered good, clean flavors with the Bourgogne. Both wines were also good with the pot pie, but that dish didn’t improve anything about the experience of the Bourgogne. In the end, with the chilly, drizzly weather we had that day, June found the warm, comforting chicken pot pie and the balanced minerality of the Simon Bize were perfect together. The toasty flavors in the golden crust of the pot pie worked especially well with the lemon and salt aspects of the wine. Back on the road, we headed to our last location.
Our fourth and final spot was Foreign and Domestic where two pairings were prepared. First, another savory pairing was to be completed in ten minutes followed by a dessert pairing in an additional ten minutes. For the savory options, a chestnut soup with fried peanuts, lacquered quail on potato puree with grilled celery, and parsnip puree ravioli in fennel broth with roasted grapes waited with a glass of 2007 Domaine Michel LaFarge Bourgogne Aligote Raisin Dores (Aligote being the “second” white variety grown in Burgundy, able to withstand tougher growing conditions and producing wines slightly higher in acidity than their Chardonnay counterparts) and a glass of 2007 Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet L’Estimee (a village mostly famous for its whites, the reds from this region typically drink well young and provide excellent value for the money). In this case, June pointed out both wines were similar in weight and the Aligote could work in a red wine scenario. She explained that soup is difficult to pair because it’s also a liquid. It’s like you’re thinking about drinking two things at the same time. The ravioli was a complex dish with a lot of flavors including roasted grapes and brussels sprouts, and there was the creaminess of the sauce to also consider. It brought out the tannins in the red but the dish itself wasn’t enhanced by that wine, and the white dumbed down the creaminess. With the quail, the red was a solid pairing yet made the wine more tart while the white enhanced the gaminess but none of the other flavors. The cream-based chestnut soup with fried peanuts on top truly came alive with the Aligote. The rusticity of the peanuts tasted fresher and more exciting. In fact, June said this particular pairing brought out such great flavors, it gave her "jazz hands." With our last ten minutes remaining, we quickly moved over to the dessert table.
Here, chocolate mousse, caramel-topped rice pudding, and a blood orange sorbet with hazelnuts sat with two wines that were not dessert wines. They were the 2007 Domain Michel LeFarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (unlike the majority of red Burgundy which is 100% Pinot Noir, Passetoutgrains is a blend which must contain a minimum of 15% Gamay) and the N. V. Paul Berthelot Champagne Brut Reserve Premier Cru (another grower-producer, this complex wine actually has all three grapes: Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier). June discussed the difficulty of pairing desserts with non-dessert wines and how the sweetness of the food can make wine more astringent. She started with the champagne which made the sorbet taste a bit like pixie stix and didn’t improve the experience of the champagne. Then, the red with the rice pudding resulted in a mineral taste of blood in the wine and was not a match at all. The red with the chocolate mousse was good but didn’t do either justice. It was the rich caramel and bready quality of the rice pudding that brought out the toastiness in the Champagne, and that was June’s choice for the dessert pairing.
The Wine Ride ended at Uchiko where the teams met and each gave a final presentation of their chosen pairings. June went through each of her choices:
The Pleasant Ridge cheese and the D’Ardhuy Bourgogne pairing brought out nice, supple fruit in the wine and the earthiness of the cheese.
The beef short ribs and the Corbieres was a match of lush fruit in the wine and a lush protein where the earthiness wasn’t tamed and both were rich and juicy.
The chicken pot pie was the favorite dish of the spectators at that location and with good reason. It was perfectly paired with the Chardonnay.
When a dish is brightened and surprises you with added flavor because of a wine, it’s a great pairing. So, the chestnut soup and Aligote were picked.
Last, the most difficult pairing was choosing a dessert with a non-dessert wine. But, the lovely, yeasty Champagne and rice pudding worked well together, and the wine did not become astringent.
So, what was June’s number one, most perfect pairing of them all for the day? If a pairing gives you "jazz hands," you know you’ve got a winner. June’s perfect pairing was the chestnut soup and Aligote at Foreign and Domestic.
The race came to an end, but the fun hasn’t stopped yet. Be sure to vote in both categories:
1.) Sommelier June Rodil
2.) Team June
and check back to find out who the winner will be.
Thank you Keeper Collection for organizing such an enjoyable and informative day full of such fantastic wines.