Hospo pairings – very nearly the best

Feast by Sara Dubler from Unsplash

These 61 submissions in our food and wine matching competition were very nearly as good as the winners. See also our guide to the entire glorious series inspired by our special offer to hospitality professionals who suddenly found themselves out of work.

Sifting through over 2,100 food and wine pairings to find the best ones has been a little daunting. I have a spreadsheet that is rich with creativity, enthusiasm, talent and knowledge. The question to ask was, what defined a top pairing? Was it because it was daring, or sounded delicious, or was it because it was funny or clever? Did it have to be well-written and/or detailed?

In the end, after flagging hundreds of good pairings, a pattern began to emerge: there was a group of people who obviously really, really cared about this. They’d put thought and time into their pairings, whether classic or imaginative. Some included snippets of their own lives, memories, a little story. Some celebrated the ordinary, some wrote paeans to culinary masterpieces. But the common thing that elevated their pairings was that they all explained, one way or another, why the pairing worked.

It is that ability to communicate to a customer that sets a person in hospitality head and shoulders above the rest. To communicate knowledge, the connection between food and wine, and imbue a simple transaction with passion is the gift of a true sommelier. (It was interesting to note that more than 80% of this group were sommeliers, none were chefs, about 10% were front-of-house staff.)

How to present these to you was my next dilemma. Between them, this group of hospos chose wine from 16 countries and 49 grape varieties. It went from street food to lobsters, orange wine to iconic bottles most of us will never ever get to look at, let alone taste, in our lifetimes.

So I’ve decided, for better or worse, to group the entries by wine style, and then present them roughly in alphabetical order by leading grape variety.

Here, then, and in our list of winners published separately, are my stars – not necessarily for the actual pairings (although many of them were brilliant) but for the palpable love of the job that they reveal. Note that I have edited these entries as lightly as I possibly can (there are lots of instances of ‘flavors’ and ‘savory’ below, contrary to our usual British house style) to preserve the voices of the people who wrote them. Spirit is more important than grammatical excellence. (Sometimes.)

Sparkling
White (and sake)
Orange
Rosé
Red
Sweet

Sparkling

Mike Ananiassen from Vue de Monde in Melbourne kicks proceedings off with a sparkling pair and then a rather unexpected, smoky postscript:

Xiao long bao dumplings and aged vintage blanc de blancs champagne. The toasty, buttery, and dried fruit flavours together with a light effervescence works wonderful with the doughy dumpling, and rich sauce you find inside. For a match for cigar lovers, I can recommend a Trinidad Vigia and a 10+ Year old Erstes Gewächs Riesling from Rheingau (like 2007 Schlossberg from Schloss Reinhartshausen). The cigar has a wide ring gauge offering a full mouth, but a mild-flavoured smoke. Paired with an intense dry Riesling full of body, and a deep mineral note.’

Giovanni Ferlito, head of wine and beverage at The Ritz in London takes us to Italy:

Parmigiano Reggiano panna cotta with black truffle paired with the iconic Ca' del Bosco Annamaria Clementi 2010 Franciacorta. The pairing is based on two main palate sensations: (1) The savoury umami taste of the Parmigiano Reggiano cheese is perfectly balanced by the fresh acidity of the Franciacorta, which also cuts through the richness of the panna cotta. (2) The earthiness of the black truffle matches the autolytic character of the wine, lifting its complexity and enhancing the long finish.’

Winn Roberton of Bourbon Steak in Washington DC goes for a classic, but his description nails it:

‘The dish – One of my favourite appetisers created by our most recent chef, Drew Adams. Fresh Peconic (NY) escargots simply sautéed out of shell with butter and garlic served over a silky potato purée and dressed with chive oil and fresh herbs.

'The wine – Pol Roger Vintage Brut 2006. Why it's awesome – without the use of any oak, the Pol Roger provides body through extended lees aging and a healthy amount of Pinot Noir in the blend. This matches the meatiness of the snails and the luxurious texture of the potatoes. A generous amount of minerality in the wine works in harmony with the slight earthy tone of the escargot as well. At the same time the richness in the potato and the snails unites with both the fine effervescence and backbone of acidity from the wine to allow this early-meal course to stay light on its feet. The chive oil and herbs add a little peppery spice and lift. I would be happy with either the dish or the wine separately but together it's really a sum greater than the total of its parts.’

And then in total contrast, David Dunstan writes in from Melbourne with advice on what to drink with breakfast and a motley crew (the situation many of us find ourselves in during lockdown):

‘It was after one of the great dinners held in the underground Drives at Great Western, Victoria, Australia. The next day, we assembled for breakfast, a motley crew of writers, journalists, merchants and Seppelt wine staff. It was Sunday morning and a hearty breakfast was bacon and eggs cooked on a barbecue outdoors in the homestead garden, served in the warm morning sun. The wine produced was Seppelt Show Sparkling Shiraz. This wine was of a decent age and had show award bling attached. Not unlike the distinguished one here. I have always wondered what the ideal breakfast wine was. This morning and with this fare I discovered it.’

White (and sake)

Albariño

Tom Van Velzen from Restaurant Bij Mette in Netherlands has one foot in the North Sea of his home and one foot in the Atlantic Ocean:

‘We are going to serve the Zárate, Tras da Viña Albariño 2016 with a number of dishes to show that it's great to cook towards a wine. The Zarate Albariño is a very complex Albariño which has ripened for 30 months on the fine lees which made it creamier and more complex. After we open the bottle we'll serve it straight in the glass, the rest is being poured in a decanter. The wine is still more closed and fresh and we'll serve some creuse de Zélande (Dutch oysters) just with some lime and pepper. Following we'll serve a tartar of North Sea brown crab with citrus crème fraîche and pickled vegetables. The sweetness of the crab meat, creaminess of the citrus crème fraîche and the acidity of the vegetables combined with the wine from the decanter, which started to open up and has become richer and more complex, combines great. For the main course the remaining of the decanter is served, the wine has reached its potential and is a brilliant zesty, rich and complex Albariño. With it we serve North Sea ray wing with a classic beurre blanc sauce and white asparagus. An absolute dream!’

Assyrtiko

Kim Kyungmoon from KJ Hospitality in New Jersey talks to us about cream and salt:

‘My favourite pairing is sea urchin sushi with 2018 Gaia Assyrtiko Wild Ferment from Santorini, Greece. Sea urchin has very decadent creamy texture with abundance of saline mineral quality. The wine complement textural component of creamy quality with élevage in partial barrel but perfectly balanced with bright acidity that Assyrtiko has in nature. The volcanic soil that the grape is grown in translated into smoky mineral notes which complement perfectly the ocean flavor of sea urchin.’

Martynas Pravilonis of Grand Hotel Kempinski in Lithuania suggests a match so elemental I can almost smell sea air when I read it:

'Salted sardines served simply with olive oil and greens as a garnish with Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko Santorini. The intense flavour and saltiness of sardines are very well matched by equally pronounced character of the wine. Especially salty mineral note of the wine. Wine also has a high level of acidity which counters the oiliness of the fish very well. Overall it becomes quite simple but fantastic Mediterranean food and wine match to have in summer.’

Christos Fatouros is in the UK, but is feeling homesick and wants us all to get cooking.

‘A Greek traditional dish is papoutsakia, which take eggplants and cooks them in the oven with a variety of toppings, usually minced meat or béchamel (or both). Traditional recipes vary from place to place because each area had to compensate for lack of ingredients with alternatives that their own terroir produced. The end result is a dish with a strong herbal element, but also a rich almost creamy feeling, since it has a lot of fats (béchamel, gruyère). To that I would like to juxtaposition a retsina. A traditional way of making wine, then adding resin (initially to preserve, then to flavour), it also has minerality, fruit and herbal notes, and our particular retsina of note, Kechris Tear of the Pine, boasts very good acidity provided by the Assyrtiko grape it’s made from. That brings a refreshing aspect to balance out the béchamel and gruyère, while along with the herbs from the dish creates a selection of aromas that come together nicely. This link is a recipe for eggplants papoutsakia. Please enjoy.'

Carricante

Elizabeth Kowal from Geneva Wine Cellars in Illinois takes us into her virtual classroom and treats us to Carricante:

‘Here is a pairing I did at the college where I teach wine classes and pairing in the student-run dining room:

'Guest chef John Coletta / Early Autumn Italian Celebration: Seared line-caught wild Alaskan halibut with celery root puree, early autumn shaved celery hearts and radish salad, paired with Tenuta di Fessina, Erse Etna Bianco (2016). The fresh and herbal aromatics complement and enhance the celery accompaniment of the fish while providing the brightness of lemon to the fish itself and finishes with a touch of salinity. Also, the wine has some weight to it in the mouth, which I believe comes from the volcanic soils and matches the medium body of the fish. Thank you!’

Chardonnay

Sage Baslor of Roka Akor in the USA (he doesn’t tell us where) is the first Chardonnay devotee and starts out with what doesn’t sound terribly interesting. But it gets better… way better!

Gnocchi with white burgundy! I got some fresh gnocchi from the farmers market. I pan seared the gnocchi and in a separate pan sautéed king trumpet mushrooms (farmers market), shallots, lemon and Mâcon-Villages Chardonnay. The acid and fruitiness from the wine created a great base for the mushrooms. I then added black truffle butter (farmers market... it's a really good one) miso paste and heavy cream to add some richness! Finished off with coarsely chopped sage and spinach ... and of course drank the wine with the finished dish! The acidity in the sauce and in the wine cut right through the super sauce and gnocchi and add excellent and exciting ZING to the dish!’

Christian Gutierrez (F&B SPI in Texas) is another fan of Chardonnay and pasta, but leaves out the mushrooms and cream: Ricotta and spinach filled raviolo ala uovo topped with a sage brown butter and finished with aged balsamic vinegar paired with a Russian River Chardonnay with some new oak. The richness and rounded textures of the wine matches with the full flavors coming from the egg, butter and balsamic from the dish. Match made in Heaven!’

Gustavo Medina from Rex Whistler Restaurant at Tate Britain takes us on a mini tahini masterclass:

'Charcoal swordfish with chargrilled spring onions and herb tahini. Tahini is a thick paste made from ground sesame seeds. It's most commonly used as a flavouring ingredient in Middle Eastern dishes such as hummus or with grilled aubergine to make baba ganoush. Tahini's flavour and adaptability also make it an ideal base to sauces to accompany vegetable or pulse-based dishes. 2018 Chardonnay Sanford & Benedict Vineyard, Chanin, Sta Rita Hills, California. Gavin Chanin makes quite brilliant wine, from the cool Hills of Sta Rita. He treats Chardonnay as the burgundian would, vinified in small single vineyard sites. S&B Vineyard gives this wine finesse with hints of fennel seeds, sea salt, fine acidity and fresh pear. Intense concentration exuding richness perfect for the strong flavours of the tahini chargrilled swordfish, this wine has incredible length on the palate that makes it linger for minutes after tasting.’

Pablo Castro Fuentes from Awasi Relais & Chateaux in Chile gives us a stunning vegan dish (I’d love to see a photo of it) with a Chardonnay from his home country:

Broccoli, mushroom textures, sesame
 – Broccoli in tempura with black garlic
 – Mushrooms (Paris, portobello, oyster, shiitake) some pickled, some reduced with dark beer and others reduced in balsamic vinegar
 – Broccoli, chives and cardamom puree
 – Roasted sesame powder
This preparation is a perfect combination with Calyptra, Gran Reserva Chardonnay 2017 Cachapoal Valley, Chile. The dish is smoked with Lenga (endemic tree from Chilean Patagonia), then the wine is a Chardonnay with a certain smoky aroma, on the palate it is creamy and full-bodied, with fresh and medium plus acidity, soft and mineral texture.’

Markus Vuorinen from Restaurant Bronda in Helsinki picks a Chardonnay/Sauvignon blend as an unusual pairing with… ‘Beef tartare with truffle remoulade, capers and crispy potato chips served with Nino Negri Ca'Brione 2017. Ca'Brione is usually mainly Sauvignon Blanc but in 2017 they lost most of their SB yields and it's mostly Chardonnay which makes it a bit softer and more fruity on the palate and less herbal on the nose. 6–8 months of oak maturation and high acidity makes it a perfect companion to beef tartar we served on the menu.’

Chasselas

We venture into Alpine territory with Mads Løwe Rasmussen from Høst in Copenhagen: ‘Smoked scallops with horseradish skyr and Nashi pear, paired with Les Vins du Léman, Terroir d'Altitude Chasselas, Savoie. Why? The smokiness from the scallops brings out an underlying smoky minerality in the wine, which works wonders with the sweetness of the Nashi pear as well as the notes of unripe pear in the wine.’

Chenin Blanc

Several sommeliers chose Chenin.

Charlotte Harel-Richard of Beau Mont Signé Toqué in Montréal writes rather poignantly about a birthday in lockdown.

‘Tonight is the birthday of my beloved boyfriend, and we are eating homemade spring rolls. There is going to be some tofu, crabs, shrimp as protein. For the filling we are going to put some mint, coriander, cucumber, mango, carrots, red bell pepper and vermicelli. Really a fresh mixture. For the sauce, we are going to do a peanut butter, soy sauce, with some extra spice, like ginger and hot pepper. As for dessert we did a forêt noire, such a classic, but so delicious. To drink with that? I was thinking about an orange wine to accompany the rolls with its texture and the complex aromas. But I don't have that under my hand, so I decided to put a Savennières-Roche aux Moines from Domaine aux Moines 1998. Dry wine of Chenin Blanc, it has nice spicy, floral and oxidative notes. A beautiful acidity to go with the freshness of the meal and also a nice body and texture to accompany this Asian-inspired dish. For the forêt noire, we are going to open a port, Vau vintage 1999 from Sandeman. Classics are classic for a reason. Aren't they? Cheers to you! And happy birthday to my love!’

Mo Therese from South Africa picks a Chenin blend:

‘One of the most expressive white wines to come out of South Africa for me is Rocking Horse by Thorne and Daughters – Chenin-driven white blend – and due to expressive quality of the old vines composed beautifully and less oak influenced by winemaker John Seccombe, pairs wonderfully with a black marlin steak grilled over coals with a spice-driven rub and generous amounts of lemon and olive oil as grilled, served with wilted bok choy and baby spinach leaves dressed in a pineapple, soy, fish sauce and ginger dressing with a hint of sesame oil. Balance comes from the many facets of this wine, upfront crisp acidity and classic stone fruit notes from the Chenin, but the use of Mediterranean varieties beneath that add smoke and hints of sweetness/caramel that will offset the flavors on the plate.’

Jan Van Heesvelde writes:

‘Dear judges, let me introduce myself. I am Jan Van Heesvelde, one of the sommeliers at l'Enclume in Cartmel [Lake District, UK]. In terms of food and wine pairing, I am a very classical person such as Meursault 1er Cru Perrières 2005 from A Grivault with blanquette de veau or some ris de veau. Having travelled a bit and visited certain wine regions I like to pair on this moment more than a dish per se. So my pairing: imagine yourself in the vineyards of Swartland. Sun is on all day, you're harvesting and working in the cellar. Sweating, hands purple from all the grapes you've put into the press. You finish that day, first glass with the team is a Mother Rock Chenin Blanc field blend from Johan Meyer 2017. The glass you're getting is not a perfect Zalto or Riedel, it's one with water marks on that has just been cleaned at the sink. You have this glass and along come the snacks: grilled sardines, shellfish, olives and bread. This would be my ideal food and wine match at the moment. Obviously the food and drinks won't stop at the aperitif so chances are you will get some nice juicy red with the braai they made. Only to finish off on some KMW brandy.’

Jan, you transported me.

Jim Bass from the Scarlet Hotel in Cornwall goes for a suitably coastal dish: ‘Cornish turbot with potato gratin with asparagus and leeks and creamy sauce, served with L'Insolite by Thierry Germain. One of the most incredible pairings I have ever created with our chef. The green fruit complements the asparagus and leeks. The honey and rich texture so good with gratin potato and balances the richness from the Cornish double cream base of the sauce. Finally the high acidity cuts through the creamy sauce making you want more!’

Godello

Christopher Rogers from Sunday Vinyl Wine Bar in Colorado is drinking Godello: ‘Pan-roasted sea bass (skin on) with a roasted sunchoke puree, crispy sunchoke chips, and sunflower shoots, garnished with just a drizzle of Bonamini olive oil. Paired with a 2018 Guimaro Godello – lovely texture to complement the weight of the fish and puree, with enough savory spice and sweet nuttiness to bring out the flavors of the sunflower shoots while maintaining a bright acidity to keep it lively and bouncy on the palate.’

Grüner Veltliner

Hai Tran of Barclay Prime in Philadelphia goes for a sommelier favourite – Grüner Veltliner: ‘One of my favorite combinations is a nice Federspiel Gruner Veltliner with Vietnamese lemongrass pork. The acidity and savory notes of Gruner really picks up the lemongrass flavors while underlining the slight sweet and salty notes of the marinade. Give it a try!’

Moscatel/Muscat

Barbora Peterikova, Restaurant Wils, Netherlands, picks out a gorgeous vegan dish to go with Moscatel: ‘Pickled and baked pumpkin with almond cream, confit oranges and sage oil served with Moscatel Seco, Juan Gil 2016 (Jumilla, Spain). The aromatic part of the wine goes beautifully especially with the pickled pumpkin and zesty sweetness of confit oranges. Explosion of aroma on nose is balanced on palate with flavours of the pumpkin and mellow almond cream.’

Jerald Pellowski, from Canard in Oregon, also suggests Muscat (and sneaks in a Gamay):

‘One lovely pairing I experienced recently was a 2017 Muscat Ottonel from Eyrie Vineyards that worked perfectly with candied almonds, local Opal apples, a year-old Manchego and cornmeal molasses toasts. The variety of sweet, nutty and savory flavors that mixed made it far more than an average cheese plate.

'Something slightly less obvious was the Loire Valley Gamay Noir I enjoyed last night with my smoky and rich "Punjabi" style lentil stew. The right amount of fruit and acid to balance the smoked earth and spice of my robust stew.’

Picpoul

Jessica Rachel from Northbridge Dining Room in Perth is into the Picpoul (or Muscadet, or Txakoli!): ‘Sourdough crumpets, crème fraîche, nori, keta caviar – a saline, umami driven palate with a good cream component necessitates a textural, acid lead but not overly complex wine. Sharp and zesty Picpoul could be ideal, as could Muscadet sur lie (for a bit of mouthfeel) or even Txakoli (for a delicate fizz to cleanse palate).’

Riesling

Filippos Patriarchis of 67 Pall Mall in London made me laugh. His idea of simplicity is not quite what the average punter can forage from the supermarket shelves. But I like his line of reasoning. My only objection to his entry is that he doesn’t tell us whether it’s the Riesling or Grüner he’s after. Perhaps we should try both?

‘I'd rather keep it simple and because having recently been to Wachau I will suggest the 2012 Durnsteiner Kellerberg from FX Pichler winery in the eponymous village with fresh wild caught uni eggs from Aegean Sea with olive oil and sea salt. The wine has a tropical character and racy acidity on the palate with a saline touch on the nose that directed me straight to the Greek islands although it comes from a continental region!’

I felt a pang reading Christopher Freund’s message, head sommelier of Gotham Bar and Grill in New York:

‘Hello, this is a favorite pairing of mine, from our menu that was recently revamped before we unexpectedly closed. Dish: Spaghetti neri with sungold tomato, sepia-octopus ragu, and peperoncino. The dish is a bit spicy, with a rich seafood ragu. Wine pairing: Dr Lippold, Empress Josephine’s Riesling, Mosel 2016. The wine is labelled as Hochgewächs, which is declassified Auslese-level grapes from the Weltersberg parcel of Ürziger Würzgarten; very well balanced, rich and textural, almost imperceptibly off-dry, and a wonderful fresh brightness. It tames the light spice of the ragu and brings out the sweetness of the golden tomatoes. Thank you.’

Tanguuy Martin from London’s Blandford Comptoir apologises for a Riesling classic. However, his presentation is anything but boring.

‘Possibly very classic but I will serve a Riesling Kabinett JJ Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, 2017 with a dish based on scallops ceviche. The base of the dish will be composed of a jelly made with a reduction of agrumes to concentrate the sugar and give a hint of sweetness to match with the ripeness of the Riesling. The raw scallops will be dressed on the top of the jelly and lime juice will be squeezed on the top of it. On the top of the scallop a few small dots of lemon caviar will be disposed as well as some shaved bottarga to bring a hint of petrol/smoky note to match with the characteristic of the wine. Thanks.’

Rotgipfler

Simone Andreoli (Palais Coburg, Vienna) goes for one of Julia’s more unusual wines of the week:

Wild garlic ravioli, with butter-lemon sauce and hazelnut crumble. The wine match would be Rotgipfler Ried Satzing 2017 by Johanneshof Reinisch, a round bodied wine with flavours of quince, orange peel and brioche; it is crispy and minerally on the palate with a perfectly balanced acidity. This wine matches the aromatics of the wild garlic with its roundness and the oak aging for 10 months on the lees gives to the hazelnut that roasty touch. The acidity and the minerality make the perfect pair together with the butter-lemon sauce. It's currently the wild garlic season in Austria, what would be a better pair than a local wine made from one of the rarest autochthonous grape varieties of the country?’

Sake

Laure Patry of Pollen Street Social in London went off-piste with sake, but the pairing was so quirky and beautifully explained that I’m throwing it in with the white wine suggestions: ‘Yamabuki Gold (aged sake) paired with haggis, neeps and tatties and Perigord truffle. The soy, meaty notes and the texture of the sake pair well with the rich hearty flavour of the haggis but also has enough acidity to cut through and enough structure to complement the truffle.’

Sauvignon Blanc

And then we move into the world of Sauvignon, kicking off with a bordeaux blend from Hylke Burgers of Restaurant Sinne in Amsterdam. I had to look up bimi, though. The official website is full of marketing tosh and zero information, but from what I can work out, it's a hybrid of broccoli and Kai-Lan, which is an Asian cabbage. And there I was thinking kalettes were the best thing since broccoli… ‘Flan of broccoli, served with smoked almonds, bimi, pomelo and romanesco broccoli. Chateau Simon Graves 2018. The Sauvignon gives gorgeous green tones of fennel and celeriac, which goes great with the broccoli, where the almonds make the Sémillon come through in the finish with a nice round melon tone. Match made in heaven.’

Evan White from Babbo in New York went all out and crammed in a Sauvignon, a Pinot and a late-harvest Riesling but he did it with so much thought that you’re getting three-in-one. Fiddlehead ferns? Pushki? Have I lived? (You go Google them. I’m exhausted.)

‘I recently had the opportunity to plan and pair a three-course meal using ingredients and wines native to the Pacific Northwest. Here's what I came up with (I apologize if this is a little detailed):

'First Course: rock scallop crudo with mango, jalapenos, fiddlehead ferns and yuzu vinaigrette. Wine Pairing: 2018 Kriselle Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Rogue Valley AVA. I think it's best to keep things fresh for the start of the meal, so freshly harvested scallops from the Oregon coast should suffice nicely! The tropical fruit notes of the Sauvignon Blanc will match the mango in the dish, while the freshness and acidity will balance the saltiness of the vinaigrette.

'Second Course: wild chanterelle risotto with white truffles, served with braised pushki greens. Wine Pairing: 2015 Argyle Nuthouse Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills AVA. An absolutely classic pairing, truffles and mushrooms with Pinot Noir (especially one from the Dundee Hills, known for wines with earthy, truffle notes) might seem a tad cliché. However, the braised pushki (also known as cow parsnip) greens add local flair and crispness to an otherwise decadent dish.

'Dessert: local wild berries with cherry and meyer lemon sorbet. Wine Pairing: 2018 Copper Belt Late Harvest Riesling, Snake River Valley AVA. One of my favorite styles of wine (and often overlooked, in my opinion), this late harvest Riesling features tropical fruit notes of pineapple and passion fruit to complement the berries, as well as the tartness of the sorbet.’

Pedro Alejandro Guerrero from Central Restaurante in Peru sounded quite reserved by comparison, but his pairing was unusual, sensitively local and beautifully thought through. We have just 10 tasting notes from Peru – perhaps this is the next new wine country on the horizon?

Smoked trout from the Andes, with a citric sauce of huacatay (marigold) and a cracker made of quinoa and sesame seeds. Paired with a Sauvignon Blanc made by Apu Winery in Apurimac 2019, Peru, at 2,800 metres above the sea level. Something interesting about this area, is that the harvest time is the opposite than the whole rest of the southern hemisphere. The citrusy flavor of the sauce go along and cleans the palate from the smoky and soft flavors of the trout. Leaving an herbaceous aftertaste from the wine and from the herbs on the sauce. The structure of the wine and the food and the wine are very similar. And they grow locally in Apurimac. Not many people know about this winery and area.’

Savagnin

And then we move to Savagnin. Of course we do. These are somms. Jeffrey Birkemeier from Pebble Beach Resorts in California goes upmarket.
Lobster ravioli in truffle béchamel paired with Jacques Puffeney's Cuvée Sacha from Arbois in the Jura. This non-vintage blend of local specialty Savagnin with Chardonnay is aged in partially filled casks with a veil of flor growing on the surface. The resulting wine has powerful nut and earth aromas that match the heady truffle character of the dish. The full body of the wine stands up to the richness of the lobster and cream sauce.’

Tristan Eves from Toronto is patriotic with the food but firmly in Jura for the wine:

‘For my food and wine match, I'm going to suggest a dish composed of fantastic ingredients coming from the east coast of Canada, and pair this dish with a wine from my favourite region at the moment; Jura. For the dish I would recommend baked Atlantic skate wing with roasted chanterelle mushrooms, a corn beurre blanc sauce, garnished with puffed barley and chervil. To compliment this dish, I would suggest pouring a glass of beautiful Domaine André et Mireille Tissot Arbois Savagnin 2016. This great wine, coming from the Jura region, has gorgeous depth with notes of hazelnut and honey that would pair perfectly with earthy tones of the mushrooms and barley. This wine, however, still has energy and brightness which will help bring lighter notes of the fish and corn to the center stage.’

Trousseau Gris

And then, with sort of one foot in Alpine vineyards and one foot in California, Liz Burton-Boyle from San Francisco actually brought tears to my eyes with her achingly simple pairing.

‘With all the dreariness surrounding us these days I think the perfect pairings are those that transport us back to memories that bring smiles to our faces and let us momentarily forget the uncertainty around us. So, I will sit down with a block of Comté and a bottle of Jolie-Laide Trousseau Gris 2018 from Sebastopol CA. It may not be the most typical pairing but for me it represents two of my favorite things. The delicate stone fruit, honeysuckle, and herbaceous notes work in harmony with the subtle nuttiness and saltiness of the cheese. Working harvest for Jolie-Laide in 2018 was a highlight of my career and during these difficult times I want to support my friends in the industry as much as I can while also reminiscing about the days in the cellar with a hodgepodge group of individuals all connected by our shared love of wine. Stay strong, NYC, and thank you Jancis for giving us resources to continue with our studies during these unprecedented times.’

Viognier

Jonatan Matta comes from Arequipa. Yes, I had to Google that. My geography and culinary knowledge have, ironically, been dazzlingly extended in this time of lockdown thanks to these hospos. Arequipa is in Peru and Jonatan works for Viking Cruises as a sommelier.

‘In my experience working on ocean cruises, this pairing worked for a lot of guests, with different palates, backgrounds and preferences: Moroccan lamb tagine, with raisins, almonds and honey paired with an aged, mature Viognier. Nice harmony to challenge the idea of red wine for meat. Many of the characteristics of old Viognier appear on the recipe: sweet spice, almonds, honey and raisins; and north African tagine combines sweet and savory flavors quite successfully. The bottles I recommend are Alain Parret (northern Rhône) or Iron Horse (Sonoma county). ‘

From Taiwan, Kuan-Chang Chen also goes for southern French whites:

Grilled pork chop with a sauce of apple, honey and osmanthus. I will suggest to pair with a fuller-bodied, aromatic white wine, better with bouquet and soften acidity from ageing. So I used 2012 Deusyls de La Pèira from Languedoc area, a blend of Viognier, Roussanne and Marsanne. 14% alcohol with notes of orange confit, tropical fruits and baked apple to accompany the sauce flavor, the soft yet refreshing acidity can cut the pork fat, and the juicy and chewing texture is perfect to balance the weight of the dish.’

Viura

Matthew Tanner of STK, Toronto, went for aged white rioja (hurrah!): 'Viña Tondonia Reserva Blanco (though I'm sure other well aged white rioja would also work) and Hakka dumplings. The dumplings have intense umami, assertive spices like cumin, coriander seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns, which can be hard to match with wine. The Tondonia brings intense savouriness from age – the current vintage is, I think, 2006 – and six years in barrel, with little to no primary fruit that would strike an off note.’

Welschriesling

And then we go to the opposite end of the flavour scale with Emma Ziemann’s super-fresh, floral light white: Daikon with elderflower, egg yolk and crispy brioche crumbles served with Michel Gindel’s unfiltered Welschriesling/Scheurebe/Gelber Muskateller blend, Flora 2018 from Austria. A refreshing, floral wine with high acidity to match the freshness in the food, enhance the notes elderflower and the unfiltered yeasty style of the wine is a nice contrast to egg yolk and brioche. Served in medium-sized tulip-shaped glasses at 8 degrees Celsius.’

Xarel-lo

Ellis Srubas-Giammanco from Racines in New York wraps up the alphabet with an X: ‘I have really been enjoying the wave of still Xarel-lo based wines coming from Penedès. They’re fresh, salty, and textural, with Enric Soler’s wines in particular standing out for their burgundian elegance. These wines work with such a range of cuisines, but I’ve found particular pleasure enjoying them with cured tinned anchovies or sardines dressed in olive oil, lemon juice and fresh herbs, atop a crusty slice of sourdough.’ That, quite literally, made my mouth water.

Orange

To my real surprise, there were just four orange-wine pairings that made it into this selection of the top suggestions. Orange wine is so intensely food friendly that I’d have thought it would inspire more matches. But it turns out that our somms are still a relatively conservative lot.

To choose the grape variety Johanniter, an orange wine and a wine from Poland takes guts, originality and flair. Martyna Plazewska of London’s 67 Pall Mall may be only a junior somm but she has great potential. Her other suggested pairings are also great:

Johanniter Ultra from Dom Bliskowice with classic Turkish dolmas – this is a great thing 😊. The acidity, structure, ripe yellow fruit and herbal taste of wine combines well with grape leaf and fat. Or Langhe Nebbiolo from Rivetto and raspberry-liquorice chocolate pralines. Or burrata on wild asparagus and Asian-spice marinated cucumber with Jobard Bourgogne Blanc. These are truly my ultimate favourites from last few months, I may be disqualified for pointing too many, but really wanted to share, these are truly too good. Keep Up!’

Erno Kaasik from Anno in Tallin, Estonia, has the gift of flavour and description. But he moves orange wine from the realm of street food to haute cuisine.

Duck-leg confit / Jerusalem artichoke in two different ways / Granny Smith apple / duck broth. 2017 Lazaro, Masiero, Veneto, Italy – natural orange wine, 100% Garganega grape. This wine is still, has quite intense orange/amber colour, quite viscous, unfiltered. Smell is medium intensity, ripe citrus, apple, pear, yeasty. On the palate it is dry, quite intense, quite high acidity, very tannic from the skin contact (for white/orange wine), slightly woody, some oxidation, a lot of fruitiness, ripe citrus (grape, orange peel), apple, pear, apricot, honey, yeasty. Flavour reminds me of the most intense cider, but it is much more complex. This wine combines very well with the duck leg confit; it actually adds to the dish its own layer, makes it more lively. Wine boldness goes well with dish weight, acidity pairs with fresh apple and at the same time together with the yeastiness adds liveliness to the Jerusalem artichoke. Citrus notes supplement the apple duck broth. So this orange wine is a good alternative and very unusual pairing with duck confit.’

Donald Edwards from London’s La Trompette, picks a pairing from his tasting menu and keeps it brief rather than eloquent: ‘Benevolent Neglect Skin Contact Ribolla Gialla with the hand rolled linguine with black winter truffle. The ridiculously rich buttery and pecorino heavy sauce does really interesting things to the fruit expression of the wine with regards to its structure.’

From Cape Town, Mario Salvato (Crystal Cruises) goes for another Italian orange wine:

‘I’ve recently been testing the waters with orange wine or, as I always inform guests, “I prefer the term skin-macerated white”. It’s a more accurate description of what makes the wines distinct. They’re fantastic for vegetal flavours especially bitter vegetables like asparagus, artichokes, and kale, but they can hold up to heavier foods as well. Fish, white meat, even some red meats. They can cut through the heavy flavour and fat in a lamb or goat dish, a situation that normally calls for a very tannic red wine that can be so heavy. They’re also especially good with bitter and sour foods, which are normally so hard to find pairings for. Before the lockdown I sold a bottle of Fontanasanta, Nosiola Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT, with an arugula salad with walnut or hazelnut oil. Something with plenty of bitterness and richness. The match was perfect.’

Rosé

And there was my other surprise: so few rosés. But we did get a wonderfully off-piste wine from Karina Shchukina of Wave in Moscow: ‘Fire-fried river trout is best suited with high acid, racy Strohmeier, Schilcher No 28 NV. The wine shows marinated red berries, salty flavors and marked structure, it compensates for the fat and pronounced taste of this wild fish which has smoky and specific water-plant hints in the taste.’

Going posh with Mari Vibu of Horisont in Estonia…

‘For NYE this year our chef de cuisine put for the second course escargot with paprika (puree as well as sous-vide pieces) and ham. We were having a French-themed evening so naturally we were going to serve only French wines but wanted to stay within our own wine list. What we found was that our Provence rosé was simply delightful with the dish as the paprika wasn't too sweet, so an off-dry wine would have killed the dish. Similarly, we were having difficulty with the whites as some were too light (Chablis and Sancerre) whereas the Rhône blends were too powerful. Enter the wonderful rosé, which might have sounded off considering the season, but once the guests had a taste, they simply had to agree.’

Tom Claxton of Home in Leeds, UK, went for surf’n’turf with pink: Brill with monks beard, and crispy pigs head with Domaine Tempier, Bandol, Rosé, 2015The spicy notes to this wine really play well with the monks beard but with enough acidity it'll cut through the fat in the brill and pigs head. Fresh and vibrant in theory, this pairing will keep the palate excited whilst acting as a bridge between the two strong flavours that make the dish a game changer.’

Red

It was remarkable to note how much less interesting, innovative, creative and thoughtful the red-wine pairings were. Clichés here abounded. The entries, I hate to say, were largely yawn-and-tap material.

Why is this? Why do we fall back on the lazy Cab-and-steak, Nebbiolo-and-truffles, Chianti-and-pizza pairings when we’re so willing to get adventurous with the whites? I’d love your thoughts on this – and not just on red wines with ‘white’ foods or with chocolate. It’s as if red wines are treated as a single entity, whereas whites were seen for their stoniness or fruit or acidity or perfume or salinity or fullness or delicacy or herbaceousness. (Except for duck. Please give me a penny for every duck-and-Pinot entry and I will gladly pay all the hospo furlough salaries.)

But there were some great red entries, and these are the ones that I personally loved.

Aglianico

Katherine Hooper from Maialino in New York kicks us off with Aglianico grown in Campania that Marco Tinessa vinified with Frank Cornelissen on Etna in Sicily.

Grilled lamb chops rosemary paired with Marco Tinessa's Last Trip to Sicily [a wine I’m sorry we don’t have a tasting note for – TC]. The wine offers the perfect weight for a leaner protein, with matched smokiness on both sides. The juicier, more playful side of Aglianico maintains its characteristic bite and structure, as its balanced acidity and tannin cut through the meat without any unnecessary aggression. While there are intensely savory elements to both, the concentrated, dark, spicy fruit of the Last Trip makes the sweetness of the meat sing.’

Cabernet Franc

Sara Lahlou, Farmshop, California, wore her heart on her sleeve and had me laughing with her and feeling deeply for her and the millions of families likewise affected:

‘Last night I had pork tonkatsu with rice paired with a 2017 Charles Joguet Chinon. It was amazing. Black and red fruit on the nose and peppery, leathery palate perfectly complemented the pork. The Shelter in Place order and restaurant closures (my husband is industry as well) in the SF Bay Area have led to some long, stir crazy days with our two young children. Simple pleasures like this have brought my husband and I a much needed reprieve from all the worries we face.’

Cabernet Sauvignon

Sometimes the simplest, homiest matches make the best ones. From Houston, Four Seasons, Faith Schroeder writes: ‘Last night we made pot roast tacos, and had Charles Krug Cab 2016 – great, quick, everyday pairing that worked due to the fruity, tobacco-driven flavors, even with some spicier taco action.’ I didn’t even know that pot-roast tacos were a thing (am I too British?) and I still can’t work out if they are truly Mexican or an American riff on Mexican. But the recipes look quite good!

Cinsault

Christina Hartigan of Wildebeest Restaurant in Vancouver picks out one of my heartbreak SA wines, one of the great unsung heroes of the red-wine world, and certainly one of the secret gems of South Africa. My only question is, which of their many different Cinsaults, Christine? ‘Smoked duck with julienned celeriac and Granny Smith apple, topped with crumbled Cashel Blue cheese and finished with a mustard vinaigrette. Paired with Natte Valleij 2017 Cinsault.’

Grenache Noir

From the Carlton Wine Room in Melbourne comes Jente van Beek: ‘2018 Aphelion The Aromat Grenache, McLaren Vale. Big Dogs Dell's Reuben sandwich The Captain. Their house pastrami and sauerkraut on this classic is absolutely amazing with this Grenache. Soft silky fruit and bright florals complement the spice and richness of their pastrami.’ Brief, but I’m sold. Utterly.

Nebbiolo

Cesar Lugo from New York goes to Italy proper with a dish that is neither north nor south but sounds delicious.

‘I recently had the beautiful opportunity to enjoy a 2017 Barbaresco, Castello di Neive Santa Stefano, paired with sides like finely sliced beef carpaccio with wild mushrooms, and fresh and meaty tomatoes with balsamic from Modena and extra virgin olive oil. This is not a common dish for me to find or eat, but this wine blended fantastically with the earthiness of the carpaccio and mushrooms, coupled with the thickness and tanginess of the balsamic. Would love to do this again 😊.’

Michael Kothe, in Las Vegas (Lago) asks for...

‘a chance to slowly smoke brisket. The fairly classic preparation of a savory slather of Worcestershire sauce adhering the Dalmatian rub of equal parts coarse black pepper and kosher salt to the cut is the perfect seasoning. Mesquite wood coals impart an intense smoky flavor over the course of many hours at rather low heat. When served alongside roasted fingerling potatoes with a butter and herb sauce this is my favorite meal for a crowd. With a bottle of Barolo at any age, a better meal does not exist. Aged Nebbiolo shows a mirroring smoke character. Delicate floral and tangy cranberry flavors contrast, cut through, and elevate this dish. The younger Nebbiolo wines with distinctive herbal characteristics of youth intertwine with the aromatic pepper rub and potato butter wonderfully. Brisket, however, is paradoxically a meal for a crowd. So for now I look forward to more jubilant times of health and happiness with wine and loved ones when it is once again safe.’

I am not going to deny him this chance. One criteria: I want to be there.

Nerello Mascalese

And then, keeping it in Italy but dive-bombing the south, Lorenzo Tonelli from London’s Berners Tavern goes for fish and red wine: 'Beetroot-juice-cured salmon tartare garnished with yoghurt flavoured with dill and wild herbs paired with a beautiful Nerello Mascalese from Pietro Caciorgna N'Anticchia 2015. Power and finesse matching a slightly sweet and sour dish with a high content of fat washed from the acidity of the wine.’

Pinot Noir

Paul Robineau from Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester in London goes with an almost-cliché of salmon and Pinot, but his pairing is far from banal.

‘A beautiful fried salmon with a red wine and liquorice sauce served with a barbecued aubergine. Fantastic pairing with a Sangreal 2010 Pinot Noir from By Farr in Geelong, Australia, from magnum, showing complex notes of dry red fruits, cola bean and star anise . We keep the freshness of the Pinot that cut through the oily texture of the fish. The evolution and spiciness of the Pinot reflect perfectly the sauce and smoked aubergine. Served the wine at 16 °C in a Pinot Noir Riedel glass. No need for decanting. Enjoy!’

Tempranillo

Magdalena Lis gave us the vegan pairing of lockdown:

The weight of the wine should match the weight of the dish. While jackfruit is technically a fruit, its consistency is similar to that of chicken or pork. It has a neutral taste when young, so it takes on the flavour of whatever sauce or seasoning you pair it with. It has a stringy consistency that works especially well with tangy barbecue sauce. I suggest red Rioja: Vegan Laderas de Cabama Rioja. Produced from 30-year-old, 100% Tempranillo vines. Hand harvested grapes are aged in 80% French and 20% Russian oak for 12 months – so effectively a declassified Reserva – though the focus here is on quality rather than ageing. Pure, poised and dark-fruited with balsamic notes, elegance and a lightness of touch. Easy-going. Thank you.’

Our last red was also rioja, with a bit of age and with a bit of a story. Emily Baker from Neat in Alys Beach, Florida, tells us more…

‘The wine used for my pairing is a 2001 Marqués de Cáceres Gran Reserva Rioja. I made Cornish game hens that were simply seasoned with my own poultry blend of herbs and spices. I roasted these with an assortment of root vegetables such as parsnips, turnips, rainbow carrots, Peruvian purple potatoes, red and golden beets. Before serving I used a finishing sea salt that was aged in charred Chardonnay oak barrels. The meal was a pairing dinner that my study group and I did to celebrate the end of our year. My rioja had only been in my possession for the last three years so I was very concerned about the cork. I was correct in buying an ah-so just in case, the cork crumbled. I was forced to strain, in essence I triple-decanted the wine. The whole experience was incredible and I have yet to have such an amazing pairing since. Beautifully earthy and lush.’

Sweet

There were lots of sweet-wine pairings (and see last Thursday's selection of suggested wines for sweet foods) but only two that really demanded my attention, both a little quirky.

Jessa Jastrzemski from Melbourne wrote: 

‘I recently received a bottle of 1990 Eitelsbacher Karthäuserhofberg Auslese Riesling on my 30th birthday, making it the first white wine I've had of my birth year. I decided to prepare a dish with bass, straight scallops done as a ceviche marinated with white wine vinegar emulsified with honey, brunoise shallots, red capsicum, coriander, cherry tomatoes and ginger served with tortilla chips. The sweet and sour notes of the dish matched the off-dry nature of the wine. The herbal nuances of lemongrass and green tea combined with the coriander made it a match made in heaven.’

From the other side of the world, Bart Reczkowski from Centrum Wina in Poland wrote, ‘I'm a fan both of classic and strange combos, so … French Sauternes or Polish Late Harvests with spicy dishes like chili con carne or spiced gyros salad, I know that it sounds incredibly strange, but the high sweetness of these wines perfectly fits with the tough spices and slows them down a little bit.’

Sauternes and gyros salad? Trying to get my head around that one.
 

Thank you, all of you, for inspiring us, supporting your chefs, your wine producers, your restaurants, your countries. You’re a credit to your vocation. And you’ve made us hungry and thirsty, so we’re all off to our kitchens and wine racks…