Fondues and Don’ts With Wine

FoodWinePairingFondue is as much a social occasion as it is a dining experience. In fact, it may be even more so.

And what a concept for a restaurateur: simply chop up ingredients into bite-size pieces, place hot deep-frying vessels on the tables, and have the customers cook their own food — no need for Culinary Institute-trained chefs.

Typical “chunks” of food prepared for fondue frying include various types of cheese, assorted meats and, for a sweet meal-ending treat, chocolate. This “smorgasbord” of flavors calls for some creativity when it comes to wine pairing. We suggest tapping the restaurant’s wine-by-the-glass menu and perhaps sharing three or four different selections.

No fondue meal is complete without chunks of Gruyere cheese, a delicacy that’s made in the Gruyere district of Switzerland. It takes about a hundred gallons of cow’s milk to make a single wheel of Gruyere, which, over time, takes on earthy and nutty notes.

A wonderful wine companion is Riesling, which helps underscore and elevate that nutty quality. Another is Sauvignon Blanc, which has its own herbal quality that melds seamlessly with that of the cheese. If you prefer red wine, opt for Cinsault, another wine with nutty notes and mild tannins that won’t overwhelm the flavors of the cheese. Fuller-bodied reds do not work well with Gruyere or with fondue in general.

When it comes to meat and fish, the “secret” of fondue is that the hot oil sears the outside of the food while sealing in the juices. With beef and most other red meats, a mellow red such as Merlot or Sangiovese is suggested. With fish, Pinot Grigio or Chenin Blanc — white wines that generally do not have assertive flavors — make good pairing partners.

Any number of “side dishes” also can be prepared in that hot oil, including potatoes, mushrooms and sweet onions. For those, or for an all-purpose fondue wine, opt for sparkling wine — a Spanish Cava or an Italian Prosecco.

Chocolate fondue wasn’t introduced until the 1960s, but it has become wildly popular. Opt for dark chocolate, add some toasted hazelnuts, and serve it with Port for a decadent treat.

One final word of wisdom from fondue aficionados: avoid ice water. Combined with the cheese, it can cause indigestion. Opt for room-temperature H2O.

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Posted in Food and Wine Pairings/Recipes
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