zondag 15 februari 2009

Culinary Adventure: Pairing wine with food

Time Out Amsterdam, October 2008

Klary Koopmans goes on a quest to find the perfect wine for her quiche

I love food, and I love to drink wine with my food. But while my knowledge of all things culinary grows with every meal I cook and with every cookbook I read, my wine expertise is lagging miserably behind. I just can´t seem to get past the basic ´I like this wine´- though sometimes I can manage `This wine is making me very happy´ or ´This wine is giving me a headache´.

This limitation of mine can be a bit embarrassing when I´m around foodies who seem to know everything about grape varieties, optimal vintages and trendy new wine countries (Russian Riesling anyone?). Just as I don´t fix my own bike when I have a flat tyre (hey, the bike repair guy has to make a living too!), I´m hoping there´s a way to impress my guests with well-chosen wine without actually having to become an expert.

For example, tonight I have some friends coming over for quiche (followed by stamppot). This may sound like simple fare, but my quiche is a true labor of love. I make the pastry from scratch, and then slowly cook the leeks in lots of butter until they´re sweet and tender. After crisping the bacon I finally (and carefully) mix crème fraiche, eggs and cheese to make the filling creamy and richly satisfying, yet light and fluffy. After going to all that trouble, you want - no you need - a good glass of wine.

I´m going on a hunt for the perfect, inexpensive wine to drink with quiche. That is, under EUR 10,- but still tasty. My first stop is Albert Heijn. For what it´s worth (and I know that´s probably not much) my intuition tells me a red wine would pair well with the cheesy quiche and its smoky bacon accents. Looking at the red wines on offer, I see lots of recommendations for wine to go with steak or a full barbecue, but unfortunately quiche isn´t mentioned anywhere. I decide on a South African Inglewood Cabernet Sauvignon (EUR 6,99) which is described as ´fruity and soft´.

It seems I need a little more guidance. At both my next stops, Pasteuning and Van Krimpen, my question ´I´m having a bacon-and-leek quiche for dinner. What should I drink?´- gets the same answer: ´A rich, buttery, oaky white´. So much for my intuition! Pasteuning sells me a French Chardonnay, L´Archet 2007 (EUR 6,50); Van Krimpen an Italian White, Cà del Magro Monte del Frà (EUR 8,75).

I also try the hip Grape District. The store´s concept is to organise wines by flavor profile and oocasion - for an ´intimate conversation´ they suggest powerful reds, for a picnic on the beach, light easy whites. The salesperson originally recommends (surprise!) a rich white, but when I ask him for a suitable alternative, he suggests a Sicilian rosé, Argiolas Serra Lori 2007 (EUR 8,95).

In the evening, it´s time for the tasting panel to choose a favorite. There are four of us, with wine knowledge ranging from practically non-existent (my friend Shel, who´d rather drink Coke that wine) to pretty solid (my friend Abra, who is a foodwriter visiting from France).
We start with the Chardonnay, which is indeed very oaky. It´s not my favorite style of wine to begin with, and we all feel its heady aroma detracts from the delicate flavors of the quiche. The next white the Italian Cà del Magro, is lighter and fresher and it pairs much better with the food. The rosé seems a bit flat with the quiche - none of the intense flavour I´d hoped for. It tastes good on its own, but it lacks the acidity to stand up to the rich food. ´A goats cheese would be nice with it, but it completely disappears when you drink it with the quiche´, says Abra.

Finally, the red. We do like it, with its rough young tannins and blackberry notes, but we all agree that a pizza or a burger would be a much better match for this bottle. And so the winner has to be the Cá del Magro.

What have I learnt? There seem to be two ways to pair wine with food: either seek a flavor that matches your main dish (eg buttery Chardonnay for buttery quiche) or go for a wine that will counter balance the flavours. For me, the latter seems to be the best approach.

Lesson learnt? Go to a store and let them advise you, and be as specific as you can about your food. For instance, we thought that if the quiche had been made with a blue cheese instead of Comté, the Chardonnay would have tasted better. But most importantly, tell them about your own preferences. If you don´t like oaky whites, an oaky white isn´t going to make you happy - no matter how many wine salespeople tell you it´ll go great with quiche.

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