Mario Batali, Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter returned again to the Wine Experience stage for what many guests consider the weekend’s highlight, or what Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews likes to call “our long-running soap opera, ‘The Four Chefs Gang Up on Tom.’”
As always, the verbal jabs flew in this friendly competition, in which each chef prepares a dish and then Matthews and one of the other chefs compete to see who can come up with the best wine pairing, working only with a written description of the dish. The food ranged from Lagasse’s rich pork trotter terrine to Puck’s hot pot of spiced beef tongue and cheek, while the wines ran the gamut from Chilean Chardonnay to three different Pinot Noirs to a Sicilian red and an Australian Grenache.
The fun in the seminar is the debate, as the audience and chefs analyze each pairing and the competitors work to win the audience to their side. In some cases, there’s no clear winner, as both matches have their ardent fans. Sometimes very different wines can pair well with the same item. For Batali’s braised lamb belly topped with a cheese crisp, Puck selected Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV (a real crowd-pleaser in itself), and Matthews chose a Tempranillo-based red from Argentina, the O. Fournier BCrux Uco Valley 2006. Batali remarked, “A beautiful glass of Champagne goes with just about anything, particularly with the pecorino frico, but with the fattiness of the lamb, I think Tom’s pick was a good one.”
Trotter agreed, chiming in, “It’s the fat, you just want to rub it on your lips and taste it.” At that point Puck obliged him, picking up the lamb belly from his plate and liberally rubbing it on Trotter’s face, sending the audience into shocked peals of laughter.
With antics such as these, no wonder Trotter requested a new seat assignment for next year, after sitting next to Puck five years in a row. But the rest of the audience was thrilled at this up-close experience with the celebrity chefs’ creative, delicious food—and their sense of humor.
The Chefs’ Dishes and the Pairings
Organic Illinois Rabbit Three Ways, Fennel Three Ways and Black Olives Three Ways
Emeril’s Wine: Kosta Browne Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2007 (92 points, $52)
Tom’s Wine: Brancott Pinot Noir Marlborough T Terraces 2007 (90 points, $32)
Crispy Pork Trotter Terrine with Pickled Corn and Okra Salad, Satsuma Jam, Micro Mustard Greens and Satsuma Vinaigrette
Mario’s Wine: Palari Sicilia Rosso del Soprano 2007 (81 points, $48)
Tom’s Wine: Viña Maycas del Limarí Chardonnay Limarí Valley Reserva Especial 2007 (90 points, $23)
Braised Lamb Belly with Nevada Grape Mostarda and a Pecorino Frico
Wolfgang’s Wine: Krug Brut Champagne Grande Cuvée NV (95 points, $150)
Tom’s Wine: Bodegas y Viñedos O. Fournier BCrux Uco Valley 2006 (88 points, $25)
Chinois Hot Pot with Beef Tongue and Beef Cheek, Star Anise and Chinese Five Spice Powder
Charlie’s Wine: Merry Edwards Pinot Noir Russian River Valley Meredith Estate Méthode à l'Ancienne 2006 (88 points, $54)
Tom’s Wine: Betts & Scholl Grenache Barossa Valley The Chronique 2007 (91 points, $49)
The Chefs: Emeril Lagasse, Mario Batali, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter.