Hordes of food and wine lovers amassed at Uchiko for the #wineride was about to begin. With five sommeliers and five different pairing challenges, it was unsure just how the day would unfold. Each sommelier had only ten minutes to taste wines and food, and then make a decision as to which ones paired the best. In addition, a captive audience would be seated at each location to observe the sommelier work. The over-arching purpose of the event was education - how to make wine and food pairings easier to understand and apply. The winning sommelier earns a spot to compete at Somms Under Fire among other education and fun trips. The team posts that wins earns all access badges to the Somms Under Fire event. If you want to send Mark onto the next challenge with the support for Team Mark, show us some vino love. Vote for Mark here. Vote for the Team Mark's bloggers and photographer here (@windaddict/@hopsafari, @blindedbite, and @misohungry). Grazie!
Mark's wine pairing philosophy rests on several factors: flavors, textures, and experience. Oftentimes, complimentary or contrasting flavors drive pairing choices, but texture also play a large role. The texture of the food should enhance the texture of the wine. The mouth feel, body, and tannins of the wine should hold up to the food. Overall, the food should enhance the wine, and the wine should enhance the food. Lastly, the food and the wine should take you on a journey. When a pairing takes you back to a memory of snacking on anchovy toast on the Gold Coast of Spain or a memory of enjoying a warm casserole with family, then the pairing has done its job. It has taken you on a journey to re-live a past experience.
CHALLENGE 1: The first stop for Team Mark was Antonelli's Cheese Shop. With their photos and accolades plastered over traditional and new media, John and Kendall Antonelli have effectively made a name for themselves in Austin as the go-to-cheese-mongers. From the beginning, Mark expressed that cheese and wine pairings were some of the most difficult challenges for a sommelier. Unlike other types of foods, the flavors and textures of cheese are pretty difficult to gauge simply by looking. Mark calls these types of pairing challenges experience based. One must taste the cheese and the wine together before one knows that the pairing is successful. Mark dutifully tasted, smelled, and pondered the selections for a few minutes, and he decided that the creamy coupole was the perfect match with the N.V. Thierry Massin Brut Champagne.
Mark says, "Cheese and wine prove to be very challenging because experience is necessary to determine the pairing. Coupole being from goat's milk has a fantastic tangy flavor that begs for crisp white with mirroring citrus tones, as well has having a creamy, cloud like texture. This sounds like sparkling wine to me! The Thierry Massin had the required brightness and a strong mineral presence that paired nicely with earthy bloom of the goat cheese."
Wines at Antonelli's:
- 2008 Domaine d'Ardhuy Ladoix Rouge Les Chagnots Monopole
- N.V. Thierry Massin Brut Champagne
- Tomme Crayeuse
- Ossau Iraty
- Pleasant Ridge Reserve
CHALLENGE 2: The next location on the Team Mark list was Fino. O' lovely, lovely Fino. Mark's perfect pairing here was the slow braised black angus short rib with mushrooms and the provone style 2008 Chateau St. Jean de la Gineste Corbieres Vieilles Vignes (blend of carignan and grenache grapes). The reason why Mark chose this pairing was because it was magical. One part cold and drizzly weather, one part sinfully rich slow braised ribs, and one part wine transported him to to France. That's a winner.
Mark says, "Some pairings can be telegraphed just by looking at them. Seeing the braised short rib and the potentially lush fruit and rusticity of the Corbieres made my mouth water. Basically, it was either that pairing or the Bourgogne Rouge (burgundy) and the pork belly. But the sauce on the pork belly ended up being a little to sweet that made the burgundy turn tart. As expected, the Corbieres won with the Short Rib. Proof that not only flavor, but texture is so important in food and wine pairing. Braised meats are heavy, rich, and viscous, so a wine needs to be able to stand up to those sensations. The corbieres delivered with its fruit intensity and mouth coating feel matched with its old world flavors of stones, leather, and earth. Truly a great pairing for the dreary cold weather."
- 2008 Chateau St. Jean de la Gineste Corbieres Vieilles Vignes
- 2008 Domaine d'Ardhuy Bourgogne Rouge
- Richardson's Farm Pork Belly with Mustard
- Local Chicken Ballantine with Herbs
- Black Angus Short Rib with Mushrooms
- Jamon Serrano Croquettes with Smoked Salt
CHALLENGE 3: We took a short drive down to Central Market Cooking School, where we met with Chef Christina who presented an array of complex dishes. Complex dishes can pose a problem when pairing wines. While the main ingredients might meld perfectly with wine, the addition of contrasting flavors and textures in the sauces and garnishes can make the pairing more challenging. After tasting and tasting, Mark picked the pork tenderloin with mushroom ragu and the 2008 Dominique Mugneret Bourgogne Rouge (Burgundy).
Mark says, "Many times, simplicity is key to food and wine meeting up in magical synergy. If dishes have too many profiles on the plate, which do you pair with the wine? My eyes headed straight for the beautifully roasted pork loin topped with pan roasted mushrooms. After tasting all wine and food combinations, I reconfirmed that the combination was truly making both the food and the wine better. The pinot had elegant bright red fruits, floral tones, and this fantastic earthy forest floor like sensation that matched so well with delicate pork and rustic mushrooms. This was also a study in eating foods that you would find in those winemaking regions. Burgundy (the region) and Mushrooms was perfect! Burgundy prides itself on mushrooms (especially truffles) as well as beautifully simple country dishes that are meant to enjoy with the wines they produce. This combination literally transported me back to Burgundy. It was magical."
- 2008 Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains
- 2008 Dominique Mugneret Bourgogne Rouge
- Oven Roasted Salmon with Smoked Gouda Panko Crust
- Halibut with Chive Buerre Blanc
- Roast Chicken with Polenta-Corn Cake
- Chicken Pot Pie
- Chef Christina's Lasagna with Cream Swiss Chard Rabbit Confit
- Pork Tenderloin with Mushroom Ragu
CHALLENGE 4: Finally, Team Mark made our way to Foreign and Domestic for the final two pairing challenges. For the savory pairings, we were also presented with complex dishes. For this particular challenge, Mark chose the parsnip puree ravioli in fennel broth with roasted grapes with the 2007 Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligote Raisins Dores (the other white from Burgundy).
Mark says, "A great challenge was that the dishes were the most complex. At first, I felt like the quail and red burgundy (pinot nior) were going to be the best combination, as I’ve made that pairing a hundred times before. But in all fairness to the dish and needing to taste it in its entirety, I couldn’t get there because of the vegetal tones of the grilled celery and the bright herbal tones of the mint overpowered the wine. I felt the same about the chestnut soup and the Aligote. The soup was fine on its own, but the spicy peanut garnish just drove over the wine like steam roller. Surprisingly, the parsnip ravioli in fennel broth and roasted brussels, a dish that looked heavy, was very elegant and mirrored the richness of the aligote. I noted that aligote normally produces a lean, austere wine without much character—but this wine was from the great Lafarge. It was a cuvee produced from older vines AND was actually a year older than most of the wines we had tasted. These factors equal a wine of great pedigree and depth that helped pair with such a winter inspired ravioli. That is what food and wine are all about!"
Wines at Foreign and Domestic:
- 2007 Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Aligote Raisins Dores
- 2007 Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet L'Estimée
- Chestnut Soup with Fried Peanuts
- Lacquered Quail on a Potato Purée with Grilled Celery
- Parsnip Purée Ravioli in Fennel Broth with Roasted Grapes
CHALLENGE 5: For the dessert pairing at Foreign and Domestic, Mark chose the blood orange sorbet with hazelnuts and the N.V. Paul Berthelot Champagne Brut Reserve Premier Cru.
Mark says, "Dessert is difficult because the rule of thumb is that the wines NEED to be sweeter that the dessert itself—otherwise, the wine ends up overly tart and you can’t taste the dessert. It is like drinking orange juice in the morning after brushing your teeth—YUCK! This was very challenging as we only had brut champagne and Bourgogne passetoutgrains (a blend of pinot noir and gamay) Right away, I ruled out the rice pudding and caramel. It was super delicious, but it was too cloyingly sweet for either wine. I even ruled out the burgundy red (pinot noir and gamay) as the flavors were too lean and crunchy to match with anything sweet. I ended up choosing the champagne and sorbet because their textures were so similar, and the sorbet itself was not overly unctuous (soapy). The nutty, oxidative note in the champagne married well with the crunchy hazelnuts on top of the sorbet. They worked so well together that I felt as if you could pour the champagne on top of the sorbet and create and entirely different dessert---that’s what I call a good pairing!"
Wines at Foreign and Domestic:
- 2007 Domaine Michel Lafarge Bourgogne Passetoutgrain
- N.V. Paul Berthelot Champagne Brut Reserve Premier Cru
- Chocolate Mousse with Chocolate Ganache & Sea Salt
- Rice Pudding with Caramel Topping
- Blood Orange Sorbet with Hazelnuts
While Mark has an experienced palate, what's a diner to do if there's no Mark handy? Mark suggests that diners should first select their wine, and then ask for the sommelier to select dishes that pair with the wine. Choosing a wine after the food has already been ordered may propose a dilemma if there isn't a wine on the menu that pairs well. However, if the food is prepared after the wine has been selected, the preparation of the food can be altered. At establishments with limited wine list (Trio Austin has 260 wines on hand), this is a great way to increase your chances of enjoying a pairing that enhances both the wine and food.
When entertaining at home, Mark offers five wines to have one hand. If you're hosting a pot luck or serving many styles of food, these five are great choices for pairing with different types of dishes.
- Sparkling wine (champagnes) are great in general because they have a cleansing effect with the effervescence and higher acidity. Higher acidity is the backbone of pairing. Start, continue, or end a meal with a lovely glass of bubbly.
- Pinot Nior/ Burgundy are second on Mark's list. The elegance and brightness of these wines can make them quite versatile. For some excellent new world wines, Oregon is produces wonderful pinot noir. My personal favorite is from Elk Cove.
- Mark also recommends looking for something from Peidmont, Italy. These wines are built for food. They are structured and have more tannins and acids giving great texture for pairing with food.
- Reds from Washington State have the fruit and power that is complex and food friendly. These new world wines are also typically a great value.
- And lastly, Mark recommends white Burgundy (otherwise known as chardonnay). These aren't like the American chardonnays as they tend to be more elegant, not heavy or viscous, and less oaky. To find white Burgundy in stores, look in the Italian wine section and ask the staff to point you to white Burgundy as they won't be labeled as chardonnay.
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