Intro to Pairing: Stumbling into a great match

Three different variation of oyster mushrooms, eggs, Lebanese garlic sauce, sour cream and Asiago cheese were perfectly paired with this years’ Beaujolais Nouveau release. A happy accident (kind of).

While I’d love to say I plan these posts. I don’t. That would be sound business. But for me, wine is love. I frequently stumble on my post topics, recipes, concoctions and educational topics. That is exactly what happened this week.

This weekend’s adventures involved date day with my daughter, a trip to the holiday market, planning for Thanksgiving, and a stop in at Whole Foods. Somehow greatness came together for brunch today…

Beaujolais Nouveau

Whole Foods was a random stop on Friday – my daughter and I decided to cook dinner together for a date night and we wanted to be inspired by going someplace out of our normal routine. I can’t resist a stop into their wine market when I go there, because (hats off to their wine buyer) they do a fantastic job of stocking incredibly fun things at a variety of price points and they are staffed with people who are passionate about wine.

Beaujolais is a small region in eastern France just south of Burgundy famous for its Gamay (grape).

When you sample wine in November it’s hard not to taste a new release of Beaujolais Nouveau (new-voe), and Whole Foods had a version from George Duboeuf ready to sample ($10). Just south of Burgundy – the region that made Chardonnay and Pinot Noir famous – lies the region of Beaujolais. This region is known for its use of Gamay, which is earth forward with the fruit taking a back seat. The Nouveau is their first release of the grape, fermented just a few weeks after harvest and released on the third Thursday in November – right before Thanksgiving making it (symbolically at least) the perfect Thanksgiving wine; right up there with Pinot Noir.

Nouveau wine is created by fermenting whole grapes instead of crushed, using an airtight seal, and then letting gravity do the work (top grapes crush the bottom grapes). It’s called carbonic maceration and is quicker than traditional fermentation methods – releasing more fruit and less of the bitter tannins you get with a Cab Sauv (for example). Nouveau ends up being a young, bright, joyful expression of wine. Since Gamay is typically an earthier wine; I find it ends up being a very balanced expression of earth and fruit. If you end up deciding to get yourself a Nouveau, remember to drink it mid-temp. Not quite chilled; not quite red wine temp. It should be upper 50 degrees if you want to get it spot on.

The George Duboeuf 2019 started out with a deep sour cherry, but the finish is what made it so fun! It hung out there for a while unfolding with fresh forest floor and lily of the valley. I must admit, I have a soft spot for a longer finish; and am always impressed when that finish comes from a young inexpensive wine.

But this year – they had something fun cooking I’d never seen before, a Beaujolais Rosé Nouveau ($10). It blends a shorter period of maceration followed by a direct pressing of the grapes to get a bright vibrancy with a decently long finish I hadn’t seen from a rosé in a while. I got raspberry, orange blossom and orange peel. It also had a decent finish, which surprised me even more considering it was a bright rosé.

Time to take two bottles home. I’m not sure what for. But the answer will find me…

Mushrooms & Markets

Saturday took my daughter and I to one of the local holiday markets, Plate & Parcel. This holiday, we decided to source locally as much as we could. So, what better way to do that and enjoy a day together than to head to the market?

I have this itch to grow my own mushrooms but have no idea what to grow. I like mushrooms but not all mushrooms. And the ones I don’t like, I really don’t like. Trying to find a grocery store with a decent mushroom selection has been an adventure.

I stumbled on RR Cultivation at the market and decided to get a plethora of different oyster mushrooms in pink, white, and black pearl because what better way to try them out before I grow them?

Bringing it Together

So, when you’re like me and your random exploits land you with a bag of mushrooms and two bottles of wine and you want to try both – what do you do? You concoct something, pair them, and then write about it 😉

While there are an infinite number of pairing possibilities, one of the most common questions I get is “what should I pair with <insert item here>” Here are some generalized pairing tips that can help you think through what to pull from your stash or from the store shelves.

I like to use two lenses when I pair something: What do I want to be similar and what do I want to be complimentary.

Similar weights and flavor notes can draw out the nuances in the food and wine you might not notice at first glance. My favorite way to do this pairing style is to find the spice or flavor I want to draw out of a dish and match that with the wine. For instance, if I’m making a rosemary spiced chicken, I might pair it with an herbed cheese bread, and a wine that has hints of rosemary in it (like Grenache or Riesling). Instead of drawing out some of the main flavors, I’m threading together on a secondary flavor that brings the meal together. This can help you focus your search and start to memorize (over time) what the notes are in different wines because you are reading, exploring, tasting, and storing that memory as a cohesive experience (one of the tricks helped me pass my wine exam given my most horrid memory). In my case above; I wanted some of the earthiness of the mushrooms to be brought out, so I chose a more aromatic, earthy and funky set of spices in the garlic sauce. A traditional pairing would have been French Pinot Noir because of its mushroom qualities, but by golly gee – I wanted that Beaujolais and it had earthy qualities too – so I went with it.

Compliments allow you to cut through flavors, so the wine and food balance one another. Think of this as opposites that attract. This is often done using sweet to balance out spice or acidic to cut through the rich and heavy. While the most tried and true pairings have the wine more acidic and sweeter than the food, there is so much more to experiment with.

In art, complimentary colors are across the color wheel from eachother. They perfectly neutralize each other and make grey. For instance did you know that red and green mixed in perfect balance make grey? I know this because in art school I had an instructor who had us paint entire images in shades of grey made with two complimentary colors, lightened and darkened with a touch of black and white to make a full gray palette. We had to recreate it over and over again to complete our projects. At first it was painstakingly difficult, but after repetition it became natural.

Wine is the same way. Over time it becomes instinctual how to balance out the food.

You can also play with untraditional compliments in flavors although it’s not quite as reliable as similar pairings to create the desired effect, so embrace experimentation!

Here’s an example: I love dark cacao with a good spice. It has this amazing construct. I find chocolate and spicy reds like Zinfandel are an amazing pair.

In my case, I had a bright wine (especially in the rosé) so decided richer was better! I sautéed the mushrooms in butter, whipped up some eggs, mixed in some sour cream, added some garlic sauce, and melted freshly shredded Asiago cheese on top.

The brightness in the wine acted as a compliment to all the rich textures and aromatics I had in the dish. I found the rosé ended up being a bit of a palette cleanser – getting me ready for the next bite with all those rich creams and flavors.

Complimentary pairings aren’t as easy as similar pairings. You can play it safe and stay sweeter and more acidic than the food – but heck, where’s the fun in that?

Little Helpers

I have three resources I like to make this pairing dance a little easier. One is Wine Folly: Magnum Edition. It’s a general guide that lists all the major grapes and regions you likely have lying around the house or might be envisioning as a pairing option. In a quick flip to an alphabetized page, you can look up the grape and check and see if the notes are on point. If you want to have only one wine guide around – this one is it. Mine is covered in red wine spills and doggy ears. I just gave away my old copy to make room for the expanded edition.

The second (unfortunately not available anymore) is a wine poster I love and have hanging in my kitchen. It takes you on a quick categorical journey through the flavors in your food and what grapes and regions produce those notes. When I had my wine fridge, I tried to have 24 wines (12 reds and 12 whites) from different grapes and regions. Instead of stocking when my wine fridge got empty, I just kept it mostly full, most of the time. When I was cooking, I would scan through my fridge, consult my chart for reference; and wallah! I always managed to come up with some fantastic pairings without too much head scratching. Unfortunately – they don’t seem to sell the poster anymore, and I haven’t found a great alternative. I will remain on the hunt and let you know when I find it! If you have found one already – please let us know!

The last item is a sense of adventure. There are so many combinations that work that you wouldn’t expect to work – so don’t focus on getting it perfect, focus on having fun!

What are some favorite pairings you’ve stumbled on?

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