It's not too often you just happen to look up and see a very familiar, yet out-of-town face joining you at a hotel breakfast buffet line. And not just anybody you see passing by on the streets either, but someone you have seen on national television. Well, there I was standing alone at a hotel breakfast buffet line, gathering some fruit and scrambled eggs on my plate when Chef Jeffrey Saad, the runner-up on season five of The Next Food Network Star entered the room and joined me at the buffet line at the Marcus Whitman Hotel during the Wine Blogger's Conference.
We visited about his whirlwind trip to Walla Walla while getting prepared to be the guest speaker for the Food and Wine Pairing Seminar that was held Sunday morning at the WBC10 in Walla Walla. On Saturday he was able to visit the Monteillet Fromagerie at Dayton and visit with the vibrant Joan Monteillet. He also imbided with drink and food at jimgermanbar in Waitsburg. Once in Walla Walla at the hotel, Jeffrey got to see first hand the Marc's kitchen "garden" of micro-greens" and the "magic" of food and wine pairings by Chef Bear. After sharing information about the best of Walla Walla, it was time to let the man rest and have a quiet breakfast alone, but I would definitely make sure I attended his seminar.
Jeffrey is even better in person than on TV. You really get to experience his energy and his enthusiasm for food and even better - food and wine pairings. He really explains the process of the pairings very simply, while leaving the audience thinking, "Oh sure. Of course! I knew that, but now it's confirmed."
First of all, we all know what tastes good to us, whether or not it is food or wine or both paired together. The tools needed for food and wine pairings? The nose, tongue, and love for filling your mouth with brilliant and delicious flavor combinations! It is important to first please the tongue before the nose. The tongue is the gatekeeper with the important balance and understanding of the following: acid, sweet, salty, alcohol, fat and spice. However, it is the nose where we really savor the true experience of the wine and food pairing.
He definitely got got my attention when he brought up simple pairings of ketchup and French fries. While I am not a fan of ketchup, I totally understand why children favor this very sweet condiment. It can make a difference for them in the foods they will eat. As Jeffrey pointed out, the sweetness of the ketchup balances the salt of the fries and the acidity of the ketchup cleanses the fat of the fries. Put them all together and you have a happy palate.
For an idea of what food and wine pairs well, match or contrast the elements in the food and and the wine. Here are some of Jeffrey's suggestions, along with some of my personal favorites.
Acid with Acid - Citrus or tomato base foods will soften the acids in the wine and food, while bringing out the fruity notes in the wine. This is why spaghetti with a red sauce is a must with Chianti (Sangiovese).
Sweet with Sweet - Sweetness is tamed and flavors of food and wine are accentuated. A bite of a simple apple pie is accentuated with a sip of a Late Harvest Riesling or chocolate mousse with a sip of Port.
Fat with Acid - Salmon is a fatty fish and the sprinkle of lemon "cleans" the fat and brings the flavors together. A steel fermented Chardonnay or a crisp Spanish Albarino is a perfect pairing for fish.
Protein with Tannin - MEAT! Animal meat and fats will soften the tannins in a wine. Strongly brewed orange/black pekoe teas are very tannic and once a little cream is added, the drink is softened. The tannins in wine cuts the fat in the meat just as the lemon assists in reducing the flavors of fat in fish or seafood, such as lobster. Simply explained would be a fatty prime rib with a glass of Cabernet Sauvignon.
Let me add (this isn't from Jeffrey) for vegetarians: the caramelized flavors of roasted and grilled vegetables will also work to tame the tannins in red wine. A grilled and meaty portabello mushroom, anyone?
Contrasts to Avoid:
Salty with High Alcohol - This pairing will exaggerate the alcohol in the wine. Drink lower alcohol white wines, such as Bubbles (Champagne, Cava and Prosecco) or off-dry whites, such as a German Riesling or Gewurztraminer.
Nuts with Tannins - Tannins in the red wine are accelerated. Skip the salty cashews with the Cabernet Sauvignon and reach for a chilled Chardonnay, instead.
Hot n' Spicy with Tannins - Again the tannins are accelerated. My favorite with curry entrees, chicken fajitas or spicy Asian influenced foods are the off-dry whites such as Riesling or Gewurztraminer. Usually the fruit of the wine really shows off. However, spicy meatballs will still work well with an acidic red wine like Barbera, but I also think it balances out if there is a cheese in the meatballs or on the side.
Cheese - Then along comes cheese - how to pair and with what? I was once told by a cheese monger, when in doubt go an off-dry Riesling. Chef Jeffrey Saad suggests: Sweet or off-dry wines are safe with most cheeses, such as Riesling, Sauterne (amazing with strong cheese) and Chenin Blanc.
Creamy cheeses such as Brie will wipe out the tannins in a red wine, often leaving the wine flat. Sweet wines will off-set a salty cheese, such as a Manchego, Pamesean or Mizithra (my favorite salty cheese with brown butter over spaghetti ). Strict red wine lovers can still enjoy cheese and wine pairings with a very well aged cheese, such as an old Wisconsin Cheddar or a Pecorino Romano. An acidic cheese like goat; again, follow the suggestions above for acids. And try to avoid red wines paired with stinky cheeses, such as Stilton or Taleggio (my favorite). Unless - - when in Rome ...
The top three food friendly wines according to Jeffrey:
1. Barbera – This acidic red with bright fruit will pair with a huge range of food. The Italians must know something when paired traditionally with a variety of foods such as red sauced pastas, pork, turkey and cheeses.
2. Rose – This dry or off-dry pretty pink wine will go well with almost anything. There is enough acid to match the acid in a Caesar romaine salad, while enough fruit to off-set spicy foods. Also consider there is just enough tannins from the minimal skin contact to stand up to most proteins. Roses are great BBQ wine for those hot summer days when you want the flavors of a red wine, but want the chill of a white.
3. Champagne - As long as it is not overly yeasty the low alcohol, high acidity and mild yeast marry with a huge range of food. You don't just have to eat caviar while sipping Champagne. Pair it with fried chicken and even popcorn. I prefer Spanish Cava bubbles because they are typically less yeasty than traditonal Champagne.
Jeffrey suggested his top three unforgettable classic wine and food matches: 1.) Foie gras and sauterne; 2.) Sherry (oloroso)and Marcona almonds, and 3. ) A rib-eye and malbec.
Enjoy this ideas and don't forget to experiment on your own. Get adventuresome. As Julia Child would say, "Bon Appetit!"