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Editor at large Harvey Steiman joined Wine Spectator in 1983.
Harvey Steiman

A Brilliant Pairing of Rhône Red and Roast Quail

Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007

Harvey Steiman
Posted: March 4, 2011

There are people who want funk from their Southern Rhône reds. Me, I am not so crazy about those animal, extra-earthy, gamy characteristics, not when I can get the full effect of complexity from the grape itself. Which is why I got a big smile on my face when a glass of Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 appeared next to my main course of roast quail with Puy lentils at La Toque, a Wine Spectator Best of Award of Excellence winner, in Napa recently.

Ken Frank's cooking, so thoroughly rooted in French cuisine, produced a dish that would coexist happily with any delicate French red, but the chef was smart enough to amp up the seasoning on the juicy Wolfe Ranch quail and enrich the lentils with bacon and snails. These elements worked perfectly with the wine, which was impressive for the purity of its blackberry and plum character, the complexity coming from hints of cardamom, sweet anise and ginger. La Toque offered the 2007 Châteauneuf-du-Pape as the recommended match by the glass for the quail. The young wine had not developed any bacon notes, a hallmark of Châteauneuf, so the dish supplied them. Genius.

Though full-bodied, the wine struck a graceful balance, which let the flavors sing unimpeded. For the wine alone: 90 points, non-blind. The match? 95 points, easily.

WineSpectator.com members: Read the original blind-tasting review for Domaine Font de Michelle Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2007 (91 points, $56).

• Plus, get scores and tasting notes for more recently rated Châteauneuf-du-Pape reds, along with our quick list of Top Values among Rhône reds for $25 or less.

Vince Liotta
Elmhurst Illinois —  March 4, 2011 1:49pm ET

When I saw that you gave the wine one point less than your (junior) colleague even though it was a 95 point match, I thought of ribbing you for not condescending to rating a wine higher than him. But then another issue occurred to me: Isn't one of the qualities of a wine, it's ability to pair and interact with food? Does Wine Spectator consider these transformative food pairing qualities when rating wines? You must agree that some wines have more ability to do this than others?

Harvey Steiman
San Francisco, CA —  March 4, 2011 5:52pm ET
Well, since it's impossible to review as many wines as we do and taste them first with food, I can only try to project how well a wine will match up with food. Experience tells me that there's a dish for every wine. But yes, it's true that some wines are more versatile. In general, the less dramatic and compelling the wines, the greater variety of foods it can match with, simply because there are fewer flavors and other characteristics in the wine to get in the way.

As for the 1-point difference, I can only go by what's in the glass in front of me. It is notoriously difficult to taste wine objectively in a restaurant situation. Glassware, atmosphere, what other flavors are already in my mouth all affect the impact of the wine. So many smells, so much distraction. That Mr. Molesworth and I come in within 1 or 2 points either way makes me happy.
Vince Liotta
Elmhurst Illinois —  March 4, 2011 8:14pm ET

Thanks for taking the time to respond. In following your reporting, I've always appreciated your candor and transparency. Perhaps the most telling comment for me was your confession that you drink much if not most of your wine on its own, without food. It is helpful in understanding your approach to scoring, but also explains your comment above that "less compelling" wines are more versatile.

Although I'm sure you, or others you know, have commented on a wine saying "that's a good food wine", I doubt that what you meant was that the wine was "less compelling". For me, wines which pair well with food have well-balanced acidic and/or tannic structure--not coincidentally characteristics which also allow the wines to age gracefully. The "less compelling" wines you refer to above appear to be ones without such structure which, while they may not distract from foods they accompany, they also do not add much to it.

Well structured wines interact with foods in ways that softer wines never do. There is a give and take. Moreover, as these wines age, they often become more versatile. Bordeaux was my first love, and I believe a major reason it has fallen out of favor is its inability to accommodate much of today's modern cuisine. But although I don't really drink Bordeaux all that often anymore, I find that with 10 to 20 years of age, a good one can enhance a chicken roast almost as well as rack of lamb.

(Are you sure you didn't check Molesworth's score before posting yours?)

Don Rauba
Schaumburg, IL —  March 4, 2011 10:33pm ET
A great food match is definitely a product greater than the sum of the parts. I bought a bunch of 2007 CdP and will hold off a bit in order for the bacon nuance to have a chance to develop. That sounds worth waiting for. Anise and licorice tones are also exciting. I agree that it was clever of the chef to incorporate elements not yet present in the wine into the food as a way to perfect the complementary nature of the pairing. Thanks for sharing this insight!
Lorenzo Erlic
Canada —  March 10, 2011 12:21am ET
Last night I paired two distinctive dishes with the same Duck Pond 2008 Willamette Valley Pinot Noir: A mushroom-halibut soup and chili con carne with brown rice. The wine worked wonderfully first softening the heat from the habanero pepper chili and then with the truffle butter and cream in the soup. Pairing any fish with a red wine can be dicey but this success is worth sharing.

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