Looking beyond classic wine, food pairings leads to interesting recommendations

03/18/2014 12:41 PM

03/18/2014 12:41 PM

I’m not sure why, but I started thinking about classic food and wine matches while driving around the other day.

I don’t know, maybe I was just hungry, but I started clicking through them in my mind: lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon, goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc, duck and red Burgundy, spicy Thai with German Riesling, scallops and Chablis, roast chicken and white Burgundy or California Chardonnay, and on and on.

I was going to try all of these classic matches and write an article about why they work and what other wine and food combos might be just as good or better. But, then I thought of how often that must have been done through the years. I mean, otherwise, they wouldn’t be classic matches, right?

Instead, I thought I’d reach out to a bunch of my wine-drinking friends, some in the wine business, some not, and see what they like from a wine and food pairing standpoint. What follows are some interesting, completely arbitrary, responses and recommendations. It got my mind ticking and ticking and my mouth watering. I hope it does the same for you.

The first response I got was from Craig Camp, one of the founders of Cornerstone Cellars in the Napa and Willamette Valleys of California and Oregon.

I’ve known Camp for some 20 years and he is one of the most thoughtful food and wine persons I’ve encountered. I told him it was okay to recommend one of his own wines — as they are awesome — and so he did.

“For me, one of the ultimate matches is Cabernet Franc with herb roasted lamb. Our 2010 Cornerstone Napa Valley Cabernet Franc, Stepping Stone, is amazing with lamb prepared in this way,” Camp said. “The herbal character of the wine just sings with fresh rosemary and thyme.”

Lamb and Cabernet, just as I said, but Cabernet Franc, not Cabernet Sauvignon. I knew this would be an esoteric bunch.

That was confirmed by the second pairing recommendation I got, which amazingly, was also a Cabernet Franc, this one from France.

“My favorite all time pairing is a perfectly roasted chicken with fresh thyme and goat cheese stuffed under the skin paired with Joguet Chinon, a Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley,” said Joyce Angelos Walsh, a longtime wine expert around Kansas City, currently a partner at Wine Pros Midwest. “There is something about the ‘goatiness’ of the cheese that pairs beautifully with the weight and acidity of Cab Franc.”

I’ve never put goat cheese under the skin of a chicken and roasted it, but you can bet I will now.

While waiting for others to weigh in, I thought I’d drop in my two cents worth. For me, the perfect pairing is a grilled rack of lamb served with charred, then thinly sliced, red peppers matched to a Rioja Riserva.

The weight of the wine is perfect and the Tempranillo in the Rioja just loves the grilled, sweet lamb and earthy sweet peppers. Muga is probably my favorite Rioja producer, but I could list a dozen others that would work just as well. Go for the Riserva, though, as a Crianza just doesn’t have the stuffing, and a Gran Riserva carries too much oak.

From Carrie Nahabedian, chef extraordinaire and owner of the fantastic Naha and Brindille restaurants in Chicago, there was this:

“There are a number of different complimentary pairings that I find exceptional. However, when it comes to luxury, nothing is finer than an old Bordeaux to accompany a beautiful cut of beef. My favorite dish is a filet of beef tenderloin ‘enrobed’ in foie gras with shaved French Perigord truffles. The many layers of flavors could not be better highlighted than with a 1986 Chateau Leoville Las Cases, a ‘Super-Second’ from Saint Julien, Bordeaux. The tannin and acidity of the wine balances the richness and complexity of the dish, while the earthiness mirrors that of the truffle perfectly.”

Chef Nahabedian, you had me at old Bordeaux.

From our own super star chef here in town, Carl Thorne-Thomsen, came this response:

“My favorite is a cheeseburger paired with Domaine de la Janesse Cotes du Rhone, Terre d’Argile. Cotes du Rhones tend to be very open wines. They handle a modicum of acidity along with spice and heat. So, they respond well to a number of different burger garnishes, as well as the sear or char put on a burger, whether it’s done on a grill or in a pan. Additionally, they feel compatible-casual and rustic-more hedonistic pleasure than intellectual.”

If you’ll do the cheeseburger, chef, I’ll bring the CDR.

I could go on, but the article’s getting a bit lengthy and I’m getting very hungry. Maybe I can get some of my other wine buds to come up with some white wine matches for the next go around.

In the meantime, I’m heading to the kitchen and the wine cellar. Cheers!

Dave Eckert is the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS-TV and Wealth TV for 12 seasons, or nearly 300 half-hour episodes produced on six continents. Eckert is also an avid wine collector and aficionado, having amassed a personal wine cellar of some 2,000 bottles.

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