Wine dinners provide wonderful opportunities to learn more about pairing wine with food.
In most cases, a restaurant’s chef will work directly with the featured winery’s owner or a winery rep in developing the menu and selecting the pairings.
The matchmaking can work in either direction. Sometimes the winery will want to showcase specific bottlings, and then it’s up to the chef to come up with an appropriate dish to pair with each wine.
Alternatively, a chef may have certain dishes in mind for the various courses, and then would ask the winery rep to select the matching wines.
Either way, a wine dinner usually involves an array of dishes and wines that you typically would not serve at home – unless you’re lucky enough to be or live with a gourmet cook.
A recent wine dinner at Chicago’s Smith & Wollensky restaurant featured four wines from Sonoma County’s Ferrari-Carano winery.
The dinner began with assorted appetizers on flatbread, along with mini cheeseburgers (known in some quarters as sliders). The wine selected was Ferrari-Carano’s 2008 Fume Blanc.
The appetizer pairing was fine, but more than a few people were shaking their heads over the burgers. To clarify, the burgers tasted great and were perfectly prepared. And the wine was excellent. But together, each suffered.
The Fume Blanc was featured in the next course as well, and showed much better with a colossal lump crab cocktail. Sauvignon Blanc (the variety used to make the wine called Fume Blanc) is always a good choice to serve with shellfish.
Next up, diners noshed on crunchy saffron risotto croquettes and sipped the 2007 “Tre Terre” Chardonnay. The risotto would have been fine on its own – sans the crunchy outer layer – but the pairing worked very nicely.
The best match of the evening featured the 2007 Ferrari-Carano Merlot with sage-rubbed pork loin. Merlot often has a mild herbal/spice component in its flavor spectrum, and whomever came up with the idea of using sage in the accompanying dish is a wise person, indeed.
The final pairing saw Ferrari-Carano’s “Prevail” – a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah – served with a dry-aged rib-eye steak. “Prevail” is a dense wine with powerful tannins, exactly what was needed to complement a flavorful cut of beef.
All in all, it was a fine meal with some excellent food-and-wine marriages. But when it comes to the marriage of cheeseburgers and Sauvignon Blanc, the “wedding” planners would have been better off saying, “I don’t.”