taste | wine


Natural chemistry
PANEL EXPLORES PALATE-EXPANDING FOOD AND WINE PAIRINGS

By GINO L. FILIPPI

HAVE YOU EVER WONDERED why one wine complements a certain dish better than another? Or have you wondered how one delicate change by a chef can transform the pairing from simply appetizing to delightfully palate-pleasing? Thanks to chef-instructor Ernie Briones at Cal Poly Pomona’s Collins College of Hospitality Management, I was invited to participate in a unique food and wine tasting to learn what happens when certain wines are paired with certain foods.

Joining us at The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch was Margie Ferree Jones, associate professor at the Collins College, and Mary Ellen Cole, competition coordinator for the Los Angeles International Wine & Spirits Competition at Fairplex. The restaurant is operated as part of the Hospitality Management curriculum.

Briones prepared a delicious fresh menu including grilled pizzas, sockeye salmon, lamb sirloin, prime flat iron steak, morel mushrooms, roasted asparagus and summer vegetable ratatouille.

The assorted chilled fruits, rich cheeses, dark milk chocolate almond bark, and walnuts helped complete the courses.

To understand how a wine influences the flavor of food, an examination of the basic elements of taste — sweet, sour, salty, bitter and protein — is necessary.

"Sweet and protein reduce wine aromas which make wine textures (acidity, bitterness, stringency and tannins) appear stronger.

Sour and salt make wine textures milder (richer, smoother, sweeter) and accentuate aromas. Sweetness in foods will increase the perception of bitterness and astringency in wine — making it seem less sweet (drier), less fruity and stronger," Jones said.

Spicy seasonings exaggerate the tannins and bitterness in a wine, while adding something salty or sour (such as vinegars, lime, lemon, dry wine reductions) counteracts the effect.

"A bitter taste is commonly found in some green vegetables and herbs," she said.

Five wines were selected: Brancott Vineyards of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc 2003; Columbia Crest Washington State Riesling 2007; Summerland Winery Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2006, winner of Best Pinot Noir in the Fair’s 2008 wine and spirits competition; Trader Joe’s Reserve Petit Verdot Paso Robles 2006 from Ancient Peaks Winery; and Rancho de Philo’s Triple Cream Sherry Cucamonga Valley, also a 2008 fair winner in the Best Dessert Wine category.

Initial test
First from the kitchen were the grilled Pizza Margareta with red tomatoes, fresh buffalo mozzarella, basil and olive oil; and the Veggie Pizza Ratatouille (eggplant, zucchini, red and yellow bell peppers, yellow squash) with garlic and hint of fennel.

The chilled Sauvignon Blanc was the wine we found that best accompanied the pizzas. It was enjoyable with the mozzarella and basil. Its acidity and crispness also helped complement the ratatouille. It was refreshing and brought brightness of flavors to the Pizza Margareta.

The slightly sweet Riesling also was a tasty pour. The wine’s fruitiness and acidity worked well with the smokiness of the grilled dough.

Why grill the pizzas? "To add another dimension of flavor," Briones said. "I felt the smokiness of the grill would be a good counterpoint to the acidity in the white wines. Grilling adds flavor without additional fat."

The grilled fresh salmon was beautifully presented with ratatouille and roasted asparagus tips for added green color.

"Chopped fennel fronds were sprinkled for a brighter green taste and provided a hint of licorice flavor," Briones said.

We were all impressed with the salmon and the Riesling. The Sauvignon Blanc was perhaps too herbal and acidic, where the Riesling was broader, and its slightly sweet taste worked well.

The salmon also balanced the richness of the Riesling.

"I chose to roast the asparagus with olive oil, salt and pepper, fresh garlic, rosemary and basil versus steaming," Briones said. Roasting caramelizes the natural sugars and helps offset the unfavorable hints of earthy and green characters that asparagus offers when pairing with wine, he explained.

We discussed that white wines other than Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are under-utilized in many American homes.

"It’s very important that people try different combinations of food and wine. Until you try it, you don’t really know the result," Cole said. "There are great opportunities with white wines. It was nice to experience the salmon and the Riesling. The salmon improved the taste of the wine."

I also learned about weight and intensity and how delicately textured and flavored foods require delicate wines, just as weighty, powerful foods are better matched with powerful wines.

"To achieve a good match, it is ideal to consider the basic components of food and wine, and ‘balance’ them so that one does not overpower the other.

It is important to consider food flavors and textures," Briones said.

Understanding taste is important in pairing wines with foods because the taste of the wine should contrast or complement the taste of the food in your pairings.

The tip of the tongue detects sweetness, while the inner sides of the tongue detect sourness and acidity.

The outer sides of the tongue detect saltiness. The back of the tongue detects bitterness and alcohol.

The lamb sirloin was prepared with a Petit Verdot reduction, presented with the ratatouille. Morel mushrooms were sautéed with garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil. They were wild and delicious.

The panel thought the Petite Verdot poured better because of the richness of the lamb. The flat iron prime steak with mushroom au jus was excellent and was our favorite with the Petit Verdot. They paired well together because both are rich, full-bodied and somewhat chewy. The balance was excellent.

"The mushroom jus sauce with the steak was excellent with the Pinot Noir," Cole said. "The sauce really enhanced the cherry fruit in the wine.

It was wonderful."

Another pleasant surprise was the Pinot Noir with the asparagus.

Generally a "wine foe," asparagus often displays a metallic-like flavor when paired with wine.

a closer look
The Collins College of Hospitality Management is considered one of the top three hospitality programs in the country. Contributions from the hospitality industry built the 41,000- square-foot, $10.2 million facility.

The Restaurant at Kellogg Ranch reopens on Oct. 9. Call (909) 869-4700 or e-mail rkrinfo@csupomona.edu for more information.

And for dessert Our dessert tray was simple: fresh melon, cherries, assorted cheeses, dark chocolate with almonds, and walnuts.

We varied from the general rule to pair sweet desserts with sweet wines.

If red wine is selected, the acidity becomes more pronounced with a sweet dessert.

"If the dessert wine is sweeter than the dessert, you don’t notice the change in the wine’s acidity as much.

Many times it is assumed that a sweet wine will combine with the sweetness of the dessert, but actually it is just the opposite. The wine will generally be perceived as less sweet or crisper," Jones said.

The knockout combination was the sweet cream sherry with the soft bleu cheese from Maytag Farms Iowa. The sweet and salt balance was perfect.

"It was creamy, not too salty or sharp, with a hint of spice from the aging — very well balanced and perfect when served at room temperature," Briones said. "The walnuts and sherry was also interesting as the nuttiness of the wine came through.

"I enjoyed the dark chocolate and almonds more than the chocolate alone with the sherry," he added. "The fresh cherries and sherry worked well together because the acid in the cherries brightened the palate and helped bring the fruitiness of the wine to the forefront."

My second favorite match was the dark chocolate with the Petite Verdot.

With the almonds or without, it did not make a difference.

Briones said he also liked this pairing because the fruitiness of the wine helped balance the slight bitterness in the dark chocolate.

Cole noted the Petite Verdot delivered a more pronounced raspberry flavor when paired with the dark chocolate. The almonds took away some of the raspberry taste. We all agreed that a lighter milk chocolate would not pair well with this red.

Our least favorite pairing was fresh cherries with the Petit Verdot.

The high acid of the cherries and the tannins of the red wine was a train wreck, as was the aromatic and flavorful Parmigiano Reggiano with the hearty red. The Riesling was better, but still not ideal.

Jones suggested trying the Rancho de Philo sherry with Keebler’s Pecan Sandies shortbread cookies! Interaction with others has an affect on our reaction to the subjective taste, and can provide more meaning and enjoyment as well. Now go out and discover your own preferences. Enjoy!

- Gino L. Filippi, ginoffvine@aol.com, is a fourth-generation vint-ner and wine writer for the Daily Bulletin.



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