Food Commentaries

Ukrainian Christmas Celebration

It's an annual affair in our home - just when you think the platters of food have run out and the fountain of wine has been shut-off, Little Christmas arrives and it provides another excuse to delay the resolution by just a few more days.

My father-in-law was Ukrainian so we were in the habit of celebrating Old Christmas, an ancient event from the old Julian calendar of Julius Caesar. Although pop is no longer with us, we still honour him by carrying on the tradition of having friends and family over for a feast of home made head cheese, village sausage, Borscht, perogies, cabbage rolls, schnitzel, sauerkraut and any number of annually chosen desserts, which this year was an airy light cheesecake with berry compote dusted with chocolate sugar. Not exactly a traditional Ukrainian dessert - that would more likely involve a combination of wheat, honey, nuts and poppy seeds -  but a darn good alternative nonetheless! We typically offer our guests eastern European beer or even Krimsekt* when we can get it locally and then I'm charged with choosing the right wines to serve with this diverse banquet of flavours and textures.

This year, we started with Riesling Sekt from the Mosel spiked with a little Creme de Cassis - a sort of Franco-Deutsch Kir Royale. It was followed with a delightful young and wonderfully succulent 2009 Chardonnay from Creekside Winery in Niagara. Although not exactly Chardonnay specialists, when winemaker Rob Power and his team hit the mark, they tend to be very near the bullseye. This version was vibrant, lemoney and the precious life-giving acidity was preserved by avoiding malo-lactic fermentation. No new wood meant it was ever so nicely laced with oak character, giving it added complexity in the nose and a hint more depth in the finish. The acidity also helped the wine to survive the onslaught of intense flavours from the sauerkraut, sour cream and sugary beet soup. Maybe not the ideal marriage here, but satisfying nonetheless.

The reds for the evening were selected as a sort of comparison - a 2008 Barbera from Damilano in Piedmont and a 2008 Gamay Noir from Chateau Cambon in Beaujolais. Both were delicious in their own right, with the latter the lighter and more delicate of the two. As one would expect from a wine of this class (it's made by Marcel Lapierre of Morgon fame), it manages to showcase all the juicy, aromatic fruit of the Gamay grape without the excessive candied, sugary or watery character of far too many other examples from the generic Beaujolais appellation. Plenty of subtle earthy tones with very delicate spice and a seam of bright acidity combine to make this a pretty serious, yet easy-drinking wine. Having said that, in retrospect, it was just too delicate a wine to handle the robust flavours of cabbage and beets and the creamy richness of the perogies. The Barbera was a much more powerful wine and managed much better with the food. Deeper in colour with it's 14% alcohol nicely concealed amongst the fine tannins, softer acidity and dark bordering on dried berry fruit. Fuller bodied it handled the richness of the meal with ease and in this particular comparison was certainly the better wine of the two. We'll look forward to next year's version of this important celebration.

Barbera vs. Beaujolais

Spaghetti Bolognese and Napa Chardonnay…Really?

Every once in a while the most remarkable wine and food match comes right up behind you. With friends from Alberta arriving for dinner in a few days, and a rather comprehensive multi-course feast planned, it was imperative that I use up leftovers so that I would have adequate fridge space for my pre-prepped items. White asparagus soup with prawns, steak with homemade frites, a selection of cheeses and chocolate fondue required that I cook in advance so I might actually get time with my friends instead of slaving over the Thermidor the entire night.

Whilst searching the interior of the fridge, I came across an impressive collection of leftovers, amongst whom I found two different Bolognese sauces. The first was a classic Bolognese, whereas the second utilized cayenne pepper spiced pork sausage in lieu of the standard meat. I elected to cook up some spaghetti and mix the two sauces together. The overall impression of heat in the final blend was quite subtle and the rich tomato sauce and olive oil flavours still dominated. The wine I selected was based purely on my mood at the time, which was to satisfy my desire for a buttery, yet fresh and full-flavoured white while I was cooking and tasting the sauces (from my Galloping Gourmet watching days). I was aware that the food match would take a back seat to my craving, however I pushed bravely on ahead.

My wine selection was a 2008 Clos du Val Chardonnay from Napa Valley, California. A fairly typical Napa Chard, this one is pleasantly buttery, lightly oaked and shares apple, pineapple and mild spice notes. What astounded me was how the wine improved greatly alongside the spaghetti Bolognese! A mouthful of the wine, followed by the food and I was suddenly struck with just how magnificently the caramel oak tones of the Chardonnay emerged and the once hidden bright green bite of the parsley garnish jumped to life. While the spice and oak danced nicely on my tongue, the buttery wine and sausage fat were in perfect harmony.

It reminded me of the time when famed wine writer Jancis Robinson stumbled across the most unusual and delightful pairing of Zinfandel and taramasalata. Never in a million years would one recommend the two together aware that big reds and anything to do with fish oils was certain disaster. How nice it is to be surprised with such unexpected things!

 

The Best Wine & Food, Every Time

Many of us are familiar with the basic rules of pairing wine and food. In the old days, we were advised to choose white wine with fish and red wine with meat. Clearly that doesn’t help much, considering the range of fish and meat options that exist, not to mention vegetables, grains, legumes and the incredible diversity of wines at our disposal. If we choose to utilize additional, more specific principles, we have a plethora to consider. Thinking about levels of acidity, sugar and tannin in the wines whilst keeping in mind the salt, sweet, bitter and acid of the food is a good start. Consider the intensity and weight of the wine and food and then deciding whether a contrast or complement strategy is most needed, will give you an excellent chance at a truly successful wine and food marriage. The question is, does any of us really want to spend that much time thinking about dinner? WineFoodMood Man does!

Follow along as I dissect countless dishes and ingredients, some familiar and some esoteric. We’ll find the best wine every time or at least the best wine NOT to have!

Sherry & Tapas

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