Monday, February 25, 2013

A Failure to Pair

There are lots of recommendations, but there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing wine with food. With French and Italian dishes, there is a long history of what wine to pair with specific dishes, but American cuisine is a bit different.

Macaroni and Cheese is a traditional American dish that can be tough to pair, matching the wine to the cheese that makes up the dish.  This time around, we picked a trio of strong flavored cheese: Fontina, NY Extra Sharp Cheddar, and Gorgonzola, giving us some sweet funk, and a healthy dose of saltiness and earthiness. Thinking of cheese plates, we wanted a fruitier wine to add some sweet and fruity flavors to complement the cheese, with just a hint of dry backbone to cut through the richness. Grabbing a bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, we sat down to our meal.

Unfortunately, this was a case where we failed to read the entire label. Napa Valley is a large AVA, with a wide range of terrior. While the main valley is internationally famous for those "fruit bomb" Cabernets, redolent with bright, ripe fruit, the region stretches into the foothills of the mountains, creating a very different climate. We had chosen a wine from the St. Helena Mountains which tends towards more the cooler-climate, "Old World" style wines: this Cabernet was much earthier than we had expected. There was some wonderfully complex flavors, hints of fruit and wood balancing off the strong flavor of stone and graphite, but ultimately it wasn't the pairing that we had been hoping for.

It's always a good thing when the wine elevates the meal by complementing the food. Sometimes it doesn't work out that way, but unless something really goes wrong, you at least get to enjoy a glass of good wine with the meal. And we did, indeed.

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