With a changed lineup of celebrity chefs for this year’s annual food-and-wine pairing, returning veteran Charlie Trotter didn’t waste any time when it came to talking smack about the absent Wolfgang Puck and Mario Batali: “They were sort of dead weight in my opinion.”
The taunts are all in sweet jest every year at the chefs’ seminar, always among the most popular tastings at the Wine Experience. Executive editor Thomas Matthews set the tone as he introduced newcomer José Andrés, whose restaurants include Jaleo in Washington, D.C., and the Bazaar in Beverly Hills. “This being his first time, he’s probably a little nervous,” Matthews warned the crowd, “so give him a hard time and show him what it’s all about.”
Also joining seminar regulars Trotter and Emeril Lagasse was Daniel Boulud, who runs Daniel and several other New York restaurants. The new challengers seemed more than up to the jocular competition of the event, in which each chef selects a dish and then, often with little more to go on than the name and basic ingredients, Matthews and one of the other chefs compete to see who can come up with the best wine pairing. The winner is decided by a show of hands from the audience.
Dishes prepared by the new chefs showed the range of styles and ingredients. Andrés’ combined Jamón Ibérico de Bellota from Fermín with salmon tartare and trout roe, which the chef called “the perfect taco.” Matthews picked Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Champagne NV, and Trotter went with a bubbly as well, Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé Oregon 2006.
When the animated Andrés said he was shy about speaking his mind on the success of the wine pairings, the audience egged him on. “They may revoke my passport,” the Spaniard said, “but I don’t think either of these wines go with this dish.”
Boulud prepared Rabbit Porchetta with Chorizo, Porcini, Arugula and Hazelnut, a surprisingly delicate dish with elegant flavors. Matthews paired it with a bold Spanish red, Bodegas Roda Rioja Cirsion 2001, while Lagasse selected a more delicate Pinot Noir, the Joseph Drouhin Morey-St.-Denis 2009. Once again, the creator of the dish pronounced that both wines missed the boat, although the audience slightly favored the Rioja.
More successful was Boulud’s pairing of an old-school Spanish white, the R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja White Reserva 1993, with Trotter’s Terrine of Tripe and Maine Lobster with Wild Mushroom Jus and Saffron—a combination that was the clear crowd favorite over a lush Sonoma Chardonnay. And while Matthews’ choice of the E. Guigal Condrieu 2009 was a standout, Andrés earned Wine Experience cred for daring to pair an Oloroso Sherry with Lagasse’s Stuffed Pig Trotter with Apple-Brussels Sprout Salad and Tangerine Brown Butter Vinaigrette.
As the seminar drew to a close, Lagasse demanded a rematch of the same chefs next year. “How many people,” Matthew asked, “think we have a great panel this year and we can move forward?” The roar of the crowd showed that the new additions are keepers.
The Chefs’ Dishes and Their Matches
Terrine of Tripe and Maine Lobster with Wild Mushroom Jus and Saffron
Daniel’s wine: R. López de Heredia Viña Tondonia Rioja White Reserva 1993
Tom’s wine: Paul Hobbs Chardonnay Sonoma Mountain Richard Dinner Vineyard 2009 (92 points, $65)
Jamón Ibérico de Bellota Fermín with Salmon Tartare and Trout Roe
Charlie’s wine: Soter Vineyards Brut Rosé Oregon 2006
Tom’s wine: Champagne Barons de Rothschild Brut Champagne NV
Stuffed Pig Trotter with Apple-Brussels Sprout Salad and Tangerine Brown Butter Vinaigrette
José’s wine: Antonio Barbadillo Oloroso Jerez Dulce Amoroso San Rafael NV
Tom’s wine: E. Guigal Condrieu 2009 (91, $59)
Rabbit Porchetta with Chorizo, Porcini, Arugula and Hazelnut
Emeril’s wine: Joseph Drouhin Morey-St.-Denis 2009
Tom’s wine: Bodegas Roda Rioja Cirsion 2001