Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Wine and Beer - Fighting to be on the Same Team

Whether we are crushing grapes or making final blending decisions, the thought of how our wines will pair with food is always foremost in our minds.  Simply put, so far as we are concerned, wine and food are meant to go together so that they may complement, contrast, and/or refresh one another.  The fact that we make this so paramount to our winemaking philosophy may come as a surprise to some, and we will be glad to get into how it informs and inspires the decisions we make here in the winery in the future.  Especially as our fantastic new Chef, Jarrod, has hit the ground running, the opportunity for us to pair our wines with dishes will prove quite the muse for our blogging as well.

In the meantime, I had the opportunity to attend a fantastic dinner last night focusing on another classic food-pairing beverage: beer.  The wine world has often joked that it takes a lot of beer to make wine, a fact that is demonstrably true, but is also a backhanded complement to the brewing world we are not so far removed from.  Beer is not just an input that yields wine, it is a beverage that deserves equal space at a fine dining table when the "best match" is being sought for a dish.

Don't believe me?  Try wine and cheese together, a cliché that everyone assumes just works, and if you pay attention to what you are tasting you will realize it often doesn't work at all.  Red wines all seem to taste the same with cheese, white wines are often overwhelmed, and the unique nutty, fruity, earthy, and vegetal flavors of the cheese disappear as well.  While some wines and cheese do pair together spectacularly, that is a bit like winning the lottery twice in a row.  Try a handcrafted beer with cheese, however, and with very few guidelines you will have a transcendent experience.  This is just one example of many that could be mentioned, and should be mentioned now that our local economies have such great brewers popping up.

Last night was another such experience for those who attended the Great Lakes Brewing dinner at the Wegmans in Canandaigua.  Great Lakes are one of the best regional brewers out there and I am a huge fan of Wegmans, so fair warning that I am undoubtedly biased.  Getting to meet Luke Purcell, the brewer down at Great Lakes, only made the experience more enjoyable and intellectually fascinating.  He speaks about balance and moderation in use of hops or oak aging experiments the same way we speak about balance and presence of acid in cool climate wines rather than a race for highest ABV%.

Despite my bias, I will absolutely say that the food prepared by the chefs was fantastic and the beers paired beautifully.  Crispy Pork Belly paired with Conways Irish Ale, Garganeli with Duck and Walnuts paired with Eliot Ness, Roast Leg of Lamb with Cassoulet beans paired with Nosferatu, and Pear Gingerbread Cake paired with Great Lake's infamous Christmas Ale.  All were interesting (albeit filling) pairings that brought out the fall flavors and warmth we all like to call up during storybook waves of nostalgia.

Being employed in a winery, I could not help but wonder what wines might have worked with these dishes or would not have worked at all.  In particular, I would have loved the crisp finish of a riesling to pair with the pork belly to help refresh it from all the fat content.  This is not to say that the pairing there wasn't appropriate, but to say that there is always more than one pairing that will work.  And with microbrewers caring as much about their product, craft, and food as we do; the number of matches is only growing.

By: Kelby, Winemaking Team

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