Home experimentation inspired my cover story exploring ways to tweak food to match better with specific wines. It's in the May 31 issue of Wine Spectator, currently on newsstands.
For several dinners back in December and January I chose three wines made from the same grape variety, so they shared some characteristics, but from different regions, so each wine had some unique aspects as well. Then I made a dish I thought would show off the wines best, adjusting some elements I hoped would better aim at each specific wine.
Although my experience suggested what might work best, you really don't know without a reality check. And yes, in some cases different wines responded better to different versions from the one intended. For one of the categories, Cabernet Sauvignon, I made three different sauces for grilled steak, and tried them at home.
I had expected red-wine butter, with its delicacy, would show off the elegant Margaux, and chimichurri sauce, a regional specialty of Argentina, to cozy up best with an Argentinean Cabernet. But, my guests and I agreed, it was the California wine that took a step up with the chimichurri. The lighter South American wine, with its transparency, balanced better with the red-wine butter, and the Margaux danced best around a peppery sauce with the flavors of steak au poivre.
Before settling on the final matches for the story, I wanted to be sure that the recipes worked well made by someone else. So I spent a couple of days with Paul Tang, the house chef in the kitchens of Purcell Murray, a high-end home-kitchen showroom in Brisbane, just outside San Francisco. He cooked the recipes to make sure they worked right, and I brought the wines to taste with the various versions.
Tang made the sauces and seasoned the steaks. While he grilled the meat I tasted each bottle to make sure it was sound and to get a baseline note without food. Would the intended wines do as well in this final tasting?