This is a guest post by the talented Cyrille Hanson. Cyrille, The Hotel Hanford’s wine and event manager, has more than 25 years of experience in the wine industry (which makes me automatically like her). Cyrille is the mastermind behind the hotel’s wine, beer and spirits program and special events. The best thing about Cyrille is her enthusiasm when talking to novices about wine. She really enjoys the look of excitement when someone tastes something that really pleases and excites their palate. Cyrille says “Nothing should ever dissuade people from exploring what they love. I am ready to take guests on an exciting, experiment-fueled adventure through the wine world”. This makes her a perfect match for Hotel Hanford’s incredible wine program, known for its winemaker dinners, visiting chefs, poolside sipping and nibbles, themed tastings and more. In this post, Cyrille explores some not-so-traditional food pairings and encourages us to break the rules; sometimes breaking the rules gives the best results.
Remember the caveman days of food and wine pairing? Yeah, the days where basically all you did was decide whether your meal’s main event was bovine, ovine, porcine or avian and then slavishly followed your parents’ pairing mantra of “White with white; red with red!”. Granted, that chant stemmed from an era where beef was king, chicken (roasted or fried) sales put “The Other White Meat” to shame and fish’s rather rare appearance was normally in the shape of limp sticks. Spices and condiments were pretty limited to the S&P shakers and the occasional tartar sauce/thousand island duet.
Fast Forward: Today we are bombarded with an explosion of ‘new’ cuts of meat, a slew of ethnic-centricities in terms of food preparation, a grand slam of varied cooking techniques and an infinite parade of indigenous, ‘undiscovered’ wines. No longer are your choices limited to grilled, fried or broiled. Your previously sparse pantry is now the United Nations of spices, populated by Lampong black peppercorns, Spanish saffron, Dalmatian sage and Greek oregano. Currently, it is the manner of preparation, spices involved and method of cooking that determine the perfect match of wine to food.
The “For instances…” of potential meat/wine scenarios abound, but I will limit myself to the two flesh candidates that best topple the old red-to-red and white-to-white regime – chicken and salmon. For instance, grab a plump breast of chicken, pound it into a paillard, lightly sear in butter and envelope in a delicate tarragon cream sauce. Your first inclination is to grab a white wine and you are absolutely correct. A lightly oaked Chardonnay, a Roero Arneis or a lively Viognier fit the bill nicely. But turn that precious fowl into a succulent roasted bird rubbed within an inch of its being with rosemary, thyme, white pepper, and garlic, shoved into an oven only to emerge as a luscious vision of crisp skin and oozing juices and I would automatically reach for a red – Grenache, Syrah, Tempranillo, etc. It’s still white meat but the earthy complexities of the herbs and pepper transform it into a dish that screams for the epic fortitude of a red.
Now on to fishie… Salmon is a perfect example to use for this comparison, as it is inherently ‘meat’-like to begin with. Prepared as a cold dish – poached in a white wine bouillon with bouquet garnie and served with a dill sauce – your right brain will require a nimble white that provides a framework and doesn’t steal the limelight. White burgundy, Sancerre, South African Chenin blanc or a lovely Gavi perform admirably. But take that same fish, lash it with a dry rub of Lawry’s Season salt, garlic powder, hot paprika and Spanish olive oil, toss it on a sizzling grill powered by mesquite and you have an entrée that expresses itself best with a smoky Pinot, a swarthy Nerollo Mascalese, a Cahors or a luscious Rhône blend.
As is apparent, the norm no longer dictates our decisions. What drives our desires in the wine and food pairing game are the accoutrements to the prime raw material, as well as how we cook it. I’ve provided but two examples of the infinite variations to the theme of red and white (and don’t forget the bubbly!) Experiment, be adventurous and you’ll find that perfection is in the mouth of the eater.