In my day of working in table cloth, “fine” dining restaurants, such as the Maile, La Mer and Bagwell’s 2424 and their more classical French oriented menus, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon had its golden moments especially pairing with cream and butter infused sauces.
Today, however, the culinary world has greatly changed, especially at the top end restaurants. There is now a whirlwind of different “takes” on food, which incorporate a fusion of many different ethnic cooking ingredients, techniques and cultures.
From my point of view, paralleling this change in food trends, the art of pairing wines to these foods is also greatly changing.
One of the growing white wine categories to consider is what I refer to as the aromatic grape varieties. In the old days, the most well known of this group were the Gewurztraminer and Riesling varieties. In addition to that duo, we are also seeing other grapes growing in availability and demand such as Albarino, Chenin Blanc, Malvasia and Grenache Blanc, just to name a few.
Here is a simple example of how these more aromatic white wines can affect a dish. Imagine cutting a fresh, cold, locally grown tomato. Then, add some salt, pepper and a drizzle of balsamic vinegar. Sounds tasty, right? Now, imagine adding some torn sweet basil or shiso. It creates a whole ‘nother experience, right? The uplifting, herby, somewhat mentholating qualities of the basil and shiso completely adds dimension to the dish without taking away from the tomato itself.
Pairing wines at a recent, star studded guest chef, “Made in America” event at the Four Seasons Hualalai really made this idea much clearer for me.
For example, a simple Fish Ceviche, cured with lime, spice and fresh Chinese parsley can be quite the challenge for wines. At this event, we found a wine that works well with such preparations is the Birichino Malvasia Bianca (roughly $15 a bottle). The wine smells like lychee and rose petals with a very crisp, lime-like edge which created quite a dynamic combination with the dish. Another really interesting, though more “quiet”, low keyed in its aromatics is the Oroya (roughly $11 a bottle), a dry, remarkably light, crisp and lemony offering from Spain by Japanese born winemaker Yoko Sato. (Because of her background and expertise, this wine can also readily pair with thinly sliced fish served with ponzu sauce (soy sauce and citrus).Another challenging dish, from the event, to pair wines with, “Fresh Hawaiian Shrimp with Jacob’s andouille and organic white grits”, is a creation of Chef John Besh of August Restaurant in New Orleans. On that night, we chose the Cypher Grenache Blanc (roughly $25), a very masculine, minerally white wine from the limestone hillsides of Paso Robles. The wine had enough lushness and body to handle the grits, andouille ’s fattiness while its wonderful, aromatic perfume and uplifting minerality greatly heightened each mouthful.
One of the most interesting and challenging food and wine pairings of the event was with Chef David Kinch’s (Manresa Restaurant, California) Strawberry Gazpacho. Half of the strawberries had been simmered for 2 hours over a double boiler and the other half was blended with onions, bell peppers, cucumbers, garlic, tarragon & extra virgin olive oil. With the resulting, cold and very refreshing soup, we chose the Malvira Birbet (roughly $24 a bottle), an equally fruity, slightly sweet, delicious, enticingly fragrant, lightly fizzy RED wine from Italy’s Piemonte wine growing region. The wine served as a sorbet would, refreshing the palate between bites in a very cool, uplifting way.