Log In / Join Now

stirring the lees with james molesworth

A Pairing Contest in the Kitchen: Burgundy vs. Alsace

Putting a Pinot Noir and a Pinot Gris to the test at home with spicy Thai shrimp and pork
Photo by: David Yellen

Posted: Aug 30, 2013 12:00pm ET

Apologies for the minimal blogging lately. I just finished an intensive tasting period in the New York office, often tasting two flights a day, each day of the week over the past several weeks. The bulk of it was Rhône samples which will form the basis for my annual tasting report in the upcoming Nov. 30 issue.

I also got caught back up on submitted samples from the Loire, Bordeaux and South Africa, as well as a few dozen Sherries that will appear in our first formal tasting report on this small but unique category of wines, slated for the Dec. 15 issue.

Whew. After all that, it was time to take a week off and work on my rusty golf game. And of course, drink some wine.

Matching wine and food can be a daunting topic for newbie and seasoned wine lovers alike. Sure, there are basic tenets for some folks—red wine with meat, white wine with fish. But those have been largely eroded: How about a white Rhône with pork? Or Pinot Noir with Salmon? In addition, as cuisines from around the world have been popularized and assimilated in American cuisine, food has become more complicated. It's no longer enough to have a steak. Is it grass-fed or corn-fed? Broiled? grilled? And the sides—how about blue potatoes and pan-roasted okra? Suddenly it's head-scratching time when it comes to pulling a bottle.

Because of this, I try not to over festishize wine-and-food matching. Sometimes I might select the wine first and build the meal around that. Other times the meal comes first and I try to fit the wine. But basically I try to avoid conflict between the wine and food while aiming to just drink and eat what I like.

So the other night as Nancy prepped a tray of Thai-style pork and shrimp balls loaded with scallions, cilantro, Chinese black vinegar, soy and the like, I figured a white would do best. I was thinking Alsace.

"What do you want to drink?" I asked her.

"Pinot Noir of course," she said.

But a Pinot seemed like a bad match. I begged her to reconsider. I tempted her with a Zind-Humbrecht.

"Well, open the Pinot for me, the ZH for you, and we'll have a taste test," she offered.

She's a genius sometimes, I admit.

I opened up a 1999 Robert Chevillon Nuits-St.-Georges Les Vaucrains and a 2005 Zind-Humbrecht Pinot Gris Alsace Grand Cru Clos St.-Urbain Rangen de Thann.

The Pinot Noir, on its own, was lightly smoky, with a racy core of red currant and bitter cherry, and bright acidity still coursing through the finish. It was a wine of energy and nerve. In contrast, the Zind-Humbrecht was oily, with bitter almond, persimmon, tangerine and white peach flavors and a slight hint of sweetness. It was rounder and more caressing in feel, but no less lengthy.

For me, the ZH was the clear winner. It married with the food, working alongside the exotic range of flavors. The Burgundy was more of a rapier, cutting through the food while accentuating the hints of spice and salt.

Needless to say, while Nancy liked the ZH (a lot) she actually found the Burgundy to be the clear winning match.

"It cuts through the food, while the ZH just stands around it," she said, echoing my exact thoughts (she can finish my sentences for me sometimes too).

Which just goes to show, there's no need to overthink it. There's no right and wrong when it comes to wine and food. Some wines assimilate with the food while other wines play a different role. And people will like one or the other for their own reasons.

So, it seems having a little time off will have a productive side. There could be a wine-and-food taste test every night …

You can follow James Molesworth on Twitter, at twitter.com/jmolesworth1, and Instagram, at instagram.com/jmolesworth1.

Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  August 30, 2013 2:46pm ET
I'm not surprised the high acid level of the Burg got punched up by the scallions, cilantro, soy sauce and especially the Chinese black vinegar, which is sweeter than other vinegars. Those who love the snap of acid love it when that happens, but I suspect a less racy style of Pinot Noir might been a more congenial match for you, James.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  August 30, 2013 5:35pm ET
I'm not surprised the high acid level of the Burg got punched up by the scallions, cilantro, soy sauce and especially the Chinese black vinegar, which is sweeter than other vinegars. Those who love the snap of acid love it when that happens, but I suspect a less racy style of Pinot Noir might been a more congenial match for you, James.
Harvey Steiman
San Francisco —  August 30, 2013 6:26pm ET
I'm not surprised the high acid level of the Burg got punched up by the scallions, cilantro, soy sauce and especially the Chinese black vinegar, which is sweeter than other vinegars. Those who love the snap of acid love it when that happens, but I suspect a less racy style of Pinot Noir might been a more congenial match for you, James.
Vince Liotta
Elmhurst, Il —  August 30, 2013 7:10pm ET
Nice work on your time off, James. All things being equal, if I was to pick a white and red for Asian food, Alsatian and Burgundy would be it. Looks like you nailed the drinking windows as well.

Tom
David A Zajac
Akron, Ohio —  September 3, 2013 12:24pm ET
Two nice wine choices, seems like it would be hard to go wrong with either! Nice to see you back....
Morewine Bishar
Del Mar, California —  September 3, 2013 2:23pm ET
I would have gone with a German Riesling Kabinett with that meal, James, something with a ripe core of fruit, a bit of RS and lively acidity.

Whatever the wine match, you have the right soul match!

""Well, open the Pinot for me, the ZH for you, and we'll have a taste test," she offered." That's the best answer possible for those sorts of questions. You're right, Nancy is a genius.

David Clark
for The Wine Connection
Tim Sinniger
Bend, OR —  September 3, 2013 8:40pm ET
We even open Pinot Noir, or a Beaujolais to pair with Mexican fare here at the house.

Love the adventureness you two demonstrate in the kitchen. It makes it fun to cook.

Tim & Carolyn
Northwest Wine fan

Would you like to comment? Want to join or start a discussion?

Become a WineSpectator.com member and you can!
To protect the quality of our conversations, only members may submit comments. Member benefits include access to more than 315,000 reviews in our Wine Ratings Search; a first look at ratings in our Insider, Advance and Tasting Highlights; Value Wines; the Personal Wine List/My Cellar tool, hundreds of wine-friendly recipes and more.
Most Recent Posts
Jul 31, 2017
Still on Top
Jul 28, 2017
On His Own
Jul 26, 2017
The Hunt for Value

WineRatings+ app: Download now for 340,000+ ratings.