A little research helps plan wine-food pairs

Most people who appreciate good wine also appreciate good food. After all, the two really go hand-in-hand when creating a menu or tasting experience that will showcase both the food and wine in the best way possible.

Every month, I meet with chef Matt Muntefering to discuss the menu for Good Spirits Fine Wine & Liquor’s monthly wine tasting at the Minnehaha Country Club. Muntefering is in charge of creating dishes to pair with the wines I present to him and leading his culinary crew through the evening of the tasting in a delicate dance of timing and presentation.

The process we go through to create the menu is quite fun and can easily be translated for a tasting at home.

The first thing I do is research the wines online to see if the winery website has any vintage-specific tasting notes. As silly as some of the tasting notes might sound (the wine holds a hint of pencil shavings or abundant fruit with hints of cedar and tobacco leaf), many times there are pieces of information you can use to create a link between the food and wine. While I might not know precisely what a tobacco leaf smells like, if you tell me there are hints of Granny Smith apple and tropical fruit, now there are clues you can run with.

While sipping each wine and reading each tasting note, Matt and I start bouncing ideas off one another for the menu. He is indulgent in my enthusiasm for great food and really throws himself into the collaboration.

One of the first wines we sampled recently was Tangent Albarino from Edna Valley in California. Typically this type of wine comes from Spain, but at our next event, we will present wines created by Christian Roguenant, a French winemaker who has relocated to Edna Valley and brings his European influences to Niven Family Wines in California.

First, we started with the basics. Albarino is hands-down the best white to pair with any type of crustacean, so we knew right away the protein would be seafood. In this case, we chose shrimp. The tasting note for this wine included “vibrant acidity and fresh aromatics of tangerine and ripe peach. This wine is crisp and refreshing, with tropical grapefruit flavors.”

While tasting the wine, we realized the bracing acidity and crispness would allow this wine to cut through flavors and really keep a palate jumping. Matt suggested combining mango and peach for an accompaniment to the shrimp, but he also didn’t want the sweet flavors to overwhelm the dish. Perhaps a little serrano pepper to add a hint of heat? This resulted in a rousing debate on the type of heat and how much should be added to the dish.

Each of the six wines on the table received the same treatment, so you will understand when I say that the “meeting” lasted a couple of hours until we felt we had given each wine and the course being presented with it a fair amount of time in the creative process.