Pairing with the right partners

- June 11th, 2012

Aside from a few wineries I’m quite fond of, and a few varietals I have a tendency to drink, I don’t give a whole lot of thought to the wine I buy.

I know what I like to drink with a good steak, or a roast chicken, or pasta, but, to be honest, I don’t think about it much more than that.

So it’s always nice to be reminded of how good it is when it’s done right, even if it is a reminder of my limited pairing abilities, as well as my limited culinary skills.

Calgary’s CHARCUT Roast House co-owners Connie DeSousa and John Jackson hosted a collaboration dinner with Chef Matt Batey of Mission Hill Winery, featuring the wines of the Okanagan fixture on the hill.

This was the kind of meal that showcases a chef at his or her finest, but also a chance to showcase the interplay between food and wine.

Now, because this is a blog dedicated to all things booze, I’m not going to offer up a lengthy review of all the food, other to say it was spectacular, but the highlight for me was definitely the way the meal was enhanced by the wine, and how the wine was in turn enhanced by the food.

Like I said earlier, I know about basic wine pairings, flavours that complement each other.

We started with a reception selection of small bites — white tuna, himalayan salt and Indian celery; roasted beet and house-made goats cheese with Kentucky mint; chicken liver, grain lavash and pickled rhubarb — paired with the Mission Hill Five Vineyards Rosé.

Obviously, the sweetness of the beet and the refreshing tang of the pickled rhubarb pair nicely with the wine, but it was the sweet/salty contrast that stood out the most, and made it hard to say no when more trays of food came around.

This was especially true of the chicken liver mousse with the pickled rhubarb — and chicken liver would be one of the last things I would typically order.

The sweet/salty came into play again with the first course of the five-course meal: Confit of free-range pork belly with a vanilla-pear puree and cilantro. The sweet apple and pear notes matched the puree, but the sweetness and acidity of the wine cut right through the salty richness of the pork belly.

With the seafood course, the meal presented subtly spiced braised octopus, along with smoked tuna and a cured spot prawn. The smoke on the fish and the cinnamon and cardamom on the octopus help contrast the fruit on the 2010 Select Lot Collection Sauvignon Blanc, but the fuller-bodied wine stands up well to the meatiness, while the freshness of the jasmine and clover were brought out by the freshness of the basil “gummy bear” on the plate.

The confit of duckling cannelloni was paired with the 2010 Reserve Pinot Noir, and it was easily tied to the dish with the inclusion of a Pinot Noir beet root, and a touch of mint, but it was the acidity and the fruit notes that played well off the richness of the duck meat.

The most interesting combination of the night was the main course of rabbit porchetta with summer truffle sausage, along with mustard gravy, Coaldale Farm asparagus and potato pan bread, all paired with the 2009 S.L.C. Syrah. The course itself had many competing, yet complementary flavours going on, and the complexity of the wine helped meld them together, but I could have been just as happy eating the delectable, bacon-wrapped, sausage-stuffed cured rabbit. It paired perfectly with the light gaminess of the rabbit.

After a meal of such heft, it was nice to end with a dessert which leaned to the lighter side, in a lemon pudding cake with vanilla-poached rhubarb and Chantilly cream. The cake settled into a light pudding, and it was the Chantilly cream and the 2009 Reserve Vidal Icewine that delivered body to the dish. The cream with its richness and sweetness, and the award-winning wine delivered honey sweetness but citrus-and-apricot tang. I know icewine can be too rich for some, but I could easily have had another.

As I said earlier, I don’t have the most refined tastes. I kind of prefer it that way because it gives ample opportunity to learn.

And who wouldn’t want a classroom, or a curriculum like the meal served up at CHARCUT.

Categories: Drinking

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