The Chicken or the Egg…or the Wine?

You know the age-old question: Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

I’m not sure whether that ever has been resolved to everyone’s satisfaction.

But since both can be food, I’ll lump them together under one heading and ask another question: Which came first, the food or the wine?

I was thinking about this the other day when looking over a couple of menus—one for a wine dinner being held this very evening in Lockport, Ill., and the other for a “Summer Wine Celebration” scheduled for a Napa Valley winery 16 days from now.

Each event features specific dishes paired with specific wines—pairings developed to be simpatico, with the wine complementing the food and vice versa.

And it’s that pursuit of simpaticoness (to make up a new word) that got me thinking about how such menus are developed. Does one select the wine and then concoct a dish to pair with it, or does one start with the dish and then seek out a complementary wine?

Well, it turns out it could go either way…although one of the two “directions” does tend to work a little bit better than the other.

Before getting into that, let’s first take a look at the two menus mentioned.

Tonight’s wine dinner in Lockport, Ill., is taking place at the Public Landing restaurant, and features five wines from Rodney Strong Vineyards.

Here are the pairings:

  • Course 1—Black Bean Phyllo Cup, filled with crab, corn and avocado chutney. The Rodney Strong wine: Charlotte’s Home Sauvignon Blanc.
  • Course 2—Butter Poached Scallops, with fresh fennel, asparagus, tomato, pancetta salad and light citrus vinaigrette. The Rodney Strong wine: Chalk Hill Chardonnay.
  • Course 3—Garlic Rosemary Crusted Baby Lamb Chops, with black truffle risotto and Pinot reduction. The Rodney Strong wine: Russian River Pinot Noir.
  • Course 4—Hickory Smoked Bacon-Wrapped Filet Medallion, with Gruyere Dauphinoise potato, zucchini battonettes and herb demi reduction. The Rodney Strong wine: Alexander Valley Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Course 5—Duo of White & Dark Chocolate Mousse. The Rodney Strong wine: A True Gentleman’s Port.

Please pardon my drooling…

Then on August 20 at ZD Wines in Napa, the “Summer Wine Celebration,” benefiting the Napa Boys & Girls Club Teen Center, will feature these pairings:

  • Melon salad, paired with 2010 ZD Pinot Grigio.
  • Ceviche, paired with 2009 ZD Chardonnay.
  • Mushroom crostini, paired with 2009 ZD Pinot Noir.
  • Brett’s famous ribs, paired with 2009 ZD Rosa Lee Barbera.

Another drool towel, please…

And now back to our question: Which came first, the food or the wine?

Well, when dealing with a specific winery—as is the case with these two events—the wine comes first. The point is to showcase each estate’s wines, and those are products that are in their finished form; their flavors are already cemented and can’t be altered, other than by time or premature exposure to oxygen.

So, in order to have a sublime pairing, the food must be matched to the wine—a task made easier because the flavor nuances of the food can be tweaked with specific spices or preparation methods (such as grilling versus broiling).

But when a wine dinner or other pairing event is intended to showcase the food, then the food comes first. A restaurant might select a handful of its signature dishes, and then start popping corks to find the right wine—regardless of which winery made it—to accompany each course.

Either way, it’s hard work…but wouldn’t you like to be the person to do it?

Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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