To choose the wines for the menu featuring the food of chef Michael Mina in Wine Spectator’s Nov. 30 issue, I asked his wine director, Rajat Parr, to select three possible wines for each dish. Parr, Mina and I tasted them with the dishes as the chef prepared them. As Parr says in the story, he finds it easy to choose a wine for Mina’s food, because the dishes find their own balance that work seamlessly with well-balanced wines.
This tasting demonstrated why it’s balance, not any specific elements in the wine and food, that make a great match.
In my video (below), Mina explains how this balancing act works in his cuisine with the first dish on the menu, a salad of roasted beets and burrata he created for his Los Angeles restaurant, XIV. He likes to play sweetness (usually from the natural sugars in the ingredients), tartness (acidity), richness (fat) and spiciness against each other so they work together instead of any one element sticking out.
In this dish, the beets contribute the sweetness and the vinegar adds the tartness to balance. Richness comes from the cheese and the buttery croutons, and spiciness comes from the peppery flavors of a wild arugula garnish.
For a wine, Parr’s instincts sent him to a white Rhône made from the Marsanne grape, Jean-Louis Chave Sélection Crozes-Hermitage Sybèle 2007. For alternates, he tried a fresh Craggy Range Sauvignon Blanc 2008 from Marlborough (New Zealand) and a classic older dry Riesling, Prager 2001 from Austria.
When I tasted the wines by themselves, I liked the Prager best. I loved its racy acidity and the extra layers of richness that age has produced. In contrast, the Kiwi Sauvignon brimmed with lively grapefruit and floral flavors. It was on the tart side but not as acidic as the Riesling. The Crozes was all beeswax and butterscotch, with a welcoming softness to the texture.
“Normally, Sauvignon Blanc is my go-to wine if I’m pairing with any cold vegetables or a salad dish. But the sweetness of the beets would throw that off,” Parr explained. “I chose the Crozes because the earthiness of its flavors matches the earthiness of the beets. The Riesling was the ‘X factor’ for the complexity of an older wine that still has some freshness.”
If you think acidity in wine is the key to matching with food, think again. As always, balance counts more. The tartness of the Riesling and Sauvignon made a loud party in my mouth. I liked the wines and both matches were dramatic, but the clash with the natural sweetness of the roasted beets made both the Sauvignon and the Riesling taste sharp. The matches were not as elegant as the dish.
But the softness of the Crozes worked magic. The salad actually made the soft wine feel tangy up front, and it lengthened the flavors in the white Rhône, and the whole thing came together seamlessly. As Parr, Mina and I ate the salad and sipped the wine, we kept going back to it because it went down easy.
“You can get through this dish real quick with this wine,” Mina laughed. It was one of those “bingo” moments.
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — November 12, 2009 12:50pm ET
Harvey Steiman — San Francisco, CA — November 12, 2009 2:22pm ET
Fred Brown — Maryland — November 12, 2009 7:32pm ET
Don Rauba — Schaumburg, IL — November 14, 2009 12:02am ET
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