Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Thoughts on the Beer & Wine Pairing Dinner at Cypress Restaurant

This Thursday (8/13) Cypress restaurant will be hosting a special event that will feature a five-course dinner and each course will be paired with one beer and and one wine. Doug Blackburn, who writes the beer blog for the Tallahassee Democrat, has written about the dinner and he gives beer the edge over wine. Its clear that one way to look at this is as a competition--a wine and beer throwdown! But there's also another way....here is the menu* with my thoughts:

First course: Lobster and Chantrelle Fritters: Lemon Tartar Sauce, Green Onion Slaw, Smoked Paprika Lobster Oil.

I would not have chosen rosé to pair with this course. A full-bodied white high in acid (e.g., Chardonnay, Sancerre, Pouilly Fume, etc.) would seem to pair better with the richness of the lobster and the acidity of the lemon tartar sauce. But the rosé may surprise.

Second course: Fennel Seed Salami and Summer Truffle Flatbread with salted mozzarella, roasted tomatoes, local arugula and roasted garlic-oregano sauce.

St. Jeannet is a rare grape variety that is only grown in small amounts (roughly 500 cases/year) in a few places in the world. Some say it tends to resemble Sauvignon Blanc but has slightly more fruit. Although this is the sort of wine that I seek out because of its obscurity, it would be one of the last wines I would choose to pair with fennel salami and truffle flatbread. The better fit would be a dry Italian red with a fair amount of acidity (e.g., Sangiovese, Nebbiolo, etc.) to cut through the pork fat and stand up to the spice. Italian wines, probably more than any other wines in the world, are intentionally produced for drinking with food. Again, however, the acid in white wine will combine well with the salt in the salami and make for a flavor boost.

Third course: Panama Red Blackened Grouper Cheeks with corn rice cakes, sea island red gravy, bread and butter pickles.
Viognier is a low acid white wine, so it will decrease the heat in the blackening spice--acid in wine increases the heat in spice. So the Viognier should work well with this course.

Fourth course: Smoked Duck Stacker--stacked smoked duck on griddled cypress bread with Thomasville Tomme cheese, grilled vidalia onions, herbed duck fat mayonnaise and Michigan sour cherry relish.

First off, I just want to say that for me this is the course of the event--duck with duck fat mayonnaise? Wow! Second, regarding the wine chosen: perfect--I wouldn't change a thing. The salt and fat in the duck (and real duck fat mayonnaise) and the low tannins in French Burgundy mellow each other out. Result: wine & food harmony.

Final course: Fried Apple Pie with gorgonzola ice cream and almond-bacon brittle.

Let me just express "Wow (again)!" (I'm having a hard time continuing to stay on task after reading this dessert's description....) And again I think that Cypress nailed this wine pairing--the acid cuts through the fat and cream, the tiny bubbles (fizz, really) contribute to a wonderful mouthfeel with the fried pie, and the contrast of the sweetness will tame the salt in the ice cream and bacon, creating the wonderful salty/sweet contrast.

Of course all of this is from my armchair since I've haven't actually tasted any of these things. I think that the greatest virtue of this sort of culinary event is not that it will determine which spirited beverage pairs better with each course and is heralded as the winner, but that it allows people to experience the differences between what wine can do for food and what beer can do. Among other things, wine tends to contain more acid than beer; acid (like salt) is a flavor booster. Beer on the other hand contains hops which makes for unique flavor combinations and carbonation which lightens up the mouthfeel and even diminishes fats in heavy foods. Typically, however, people are going to favor what they already prefer--beer or wine--regardless of how well it pairs with the food; this is natural and there is nothing wrong this. Cypress is offering a great opportunity for beer and wine devotees to to discover the differences and similarities of what beer and wine can do with food.

Enough with the armchair speculation--go taste the food and drink for yourself and enjoy wine and beer for what they are.

*Note: the wine and beer pairings were taken from Doug Blackburn's blog post.

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