When put together perfectly, both food and wine taste better.
While there is certainly room for interpretation when it comes to taste and experience, implementing basic wine-pairing rules can help to enhance members’ dining experiences.
At The Ford Plantation in Richmond Hill, Ga., Director of Food & Beverage James Scott and Executive Chef Juan Carlos Rodriguez rely as much on the science of pairings as they do on each other.
Scott, who has been at Ford for over ten years, looks at the pH of wines as a way to measure their ripeness, in relation to acidity. (The pH of most wines fall around 3 or 4; about 3.0 to 3.4 is desirable for white wines, while about 3.3 to 3.6 is best for reds).
“What wines go with what foods can largely be a matter of opinion,” says Scott. “But we consider a wine’s pH level as a starting point.”
From there, Scott works closely with Rodriguez, who has been at Ford for 11 years, to create menus that are equal parts interesting and exciting.
“We try not to read tasting notes before we’ve had a chance to taste the wines ourselves,” says Rodriguez. “We know our members’ palates better than anyone. Plus, we don’t want to be boxed in by obvious pairings. Our goal is to find new and interesting pairings that will elevate both the wine and the food.”
At the Newport Harbor Yacht Club in Newport Beach, Calif., Food & Beverage Director, Patrick Le Bras, who is also a certified sommelier, works closely with Executive Chef Polly Barrera to create equally daring pairings.
“When I came to the club four years ago, the wine list was filled with unexciting, mainstream wines,” says Le Bras. “There wasn’t much enthusiasm around wine or pairings.”
Little by little, Le Bras and Barrera have exposed members to new varietals and vintages—and like all good things, the program has snowballed.
“Members are now more knowledgeable and more adventurous with wines than they ever were before,” Le Bras adds. “And that is mimicked on the menus; they’re more daring and more open to new flavors and ingredients, too.”
At The Oaks Club, Osprey, Fla., Executive Chef James Pampinella starts with classic pairings, then adds modern twists to excite members. “I’ll research the wine, then taste it and cook with it,” says Pampinella, who has been at the club for one year.
Through his experience, Pampinella has developed these guidelines for what foods, flavors and ingredients pair up well with which types of wines:
- Salty and briny ingredients with champagne.
- Tangy foods and zesty dressings with sauvignon blanc.
- Delicate flavors with pinot noirs.
- Salmon or other fatty fish with rich sauces and chardonnay.
- Peppery elements, like arugula, with Rieslings.
- Fruit and other sweet notes with moscato.
- Pates with zinfandel.
- Bold flavors, steaks, and chops with cabernets.
- Spicy, cumin, cayenne, and chipotle with Shiraz.
Like The Ford Plantation and Newport Harbor YC, The Oaks Club caps its wine dinners at 50 members, to maintain intimacy and create greater demand. “We generally always have a waiting list for our wine events,” says Pampinella.
At the Country Club of Landfall in Wilmington, N.C., Executive Chef Olivier Andreini hosts monthly wine dinners attended by between 75 and 120 members (the CC of Landfall has more than 3,000 members on its roster).
“Wine dinners are a wonderful place to push your membership’s culinary boundaries,” says Andreini, who was previously Executive Chef at the Merion Cricket Club, Haverford, Pa., and will be a presenter at C&RB’s 2015 Chef to Chef Conference in Savannah, Ga.
“I’m still learning about the tastes and preferences [of Landfall’s members], but I know that within the context of the wine club, I am encouraged to push the envelope,” Andreini notes. To make that push, Andreini will experiment with everything from modern applications, to playful desserts, to classic pairings like champagne and oysters. “They’re ‘classics’ for a reason,” he notes.
“Successful wine pairings hinge on knowing your membership, tasting, and talking with others about the flavors in the wine and in the food,” says Ford Plantation’s Scott. “At any given dinner, 60% of guests will love the pairing, 10% won’t, and 30% won’t feel passionately one way or the other. We aim for that 60%.”