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Food and Wine Pairing Challenge

Food and Wine PairingThe majority of questions I get asked at work involve pairing food and wine. So I thought I would share some of my insights from many years of eating and drinking at the same time. (Well, not simultaneously, but you get my drift, no?) Let’s start in the upper left corner with the salad. Just a fantastically fresh garden salad enjoyed at the restaurant at Cullen Winery in the Margaret River region of Australia. The generous portion of avocado gave it an extra richness, so I was thinking a white with a little bit of body, but enough zip to handle the greens and dressing. Coincidentally, Cullen makes a fantastic duo of Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon (or SBS as they call them there) blends with a perfect zip-to-body ratio. It’s interesting to note that the SB portion of the SBS is oaked and not the S. It’s more typical to oak the Semillon rather than the Sauv Blanc. (And I wish I could recall which one I had with lunch: the Mangan or the Cullen Vineyard. The former only has a small percentage of the SB oaked while the latter oaks 100% of it. Both were delicious; that I can recall!)

So now that you’ve been healthy with your salad choice, are you feeling like a burger? Just a classic beef burger from Built Burger. (I highly recommend you visit, especially for the potato beignets, which are deliciously crisp on the outside and like potato clouds on the inside.) This juicy burger needs a juicy red, so how about a Spanish Grenache? I’d go for either the Tres Picos or the Capcanes Mas Donis Barrica. (The latter has a dollop of Syrah as well.) They’re both under $15. I don’t think it’s necessary to have a fancy-pants wine with a burger; just a solid weeknight-drinker.

But I can’t resist getting a little upscale here, so let’s move on to the pizza from Serious Pie. A simple (and simply delicious) combination of Yukon Gold potatoes, pecorino, and rosemary that has me craving a Champagne accompaniment. Potatoes, especially when topped with a salty cheese, have a great affinity for sparklers. Open up some Champagne with a bit of richness and plenty of refreshing, pinpoint bubbles: Vilmart, please.

I’m a bit stuffed, but a few laps around the block have given me some room for dessert. Bacon brittle gelato from Cafe Juanita? I encountered this at Seattle’s turn hosting pig extravaganza Cochon 555. Hmm. Rich gelato, smoky bacon, toffee-ish brittle? There’s a lot of brawn in this dessert! This calls for an Australian Muscat. A dense, sticky, amber-hued wine that will be like a sweet glaze for the bacon; look for Campbells Rutherglen .

So what would you drink with each of these dishes? I’d love to hear your suggestions in the comments.

Champagne: V is for Vilmart

Vilmart Champagne
I can admit to being a bit finicky and quite opinionated about Champagne. My strident feelings bubbled (hee hee) over at the uncritical stance many of my colleagues have towards Grower Champagne. (As opposed to negociants who often purchase grapes or juice to blend into their Champagne, growers own the land, harvest the grapes, and make the wine. You can tell a Grower Champagne from a negociant by looking for the tiny “RM” at the bottom of the label versus “NM”, respectively.) While most of my favorites are from growers, I felt that the discussion surrounding these Champagnes, sometimes affectionately referred to as (seriously) “Farmer Fizz”, and the larger houses seemed to cleave in an all-too tidy “us versus them” dichotomy. Just because a Champagne house is big (or owned by a large company) doesn’t mean it’s bad or that Grower Champagne is good solely based on heartstring-tugging sentimentality. Part of my stance on this issue I will admit comes from my penchant to be a contrarian, but I like to judge and recommend Champagne based on the most important criteria: taste.

But lest you think I sit around all day guzzling Fortune 500 Champagne, I must tell you about my new favorite producer. And it happens to be a grower. (“You liberal hippie!”) Tasting the Champagnes of Vilmart was a game-changer for me; they are simply the finest producer of the loveliest sparkling wines.

I’ll address the rosé first, the Cuvée Rubis. Wowzers! It’s as beautiful to look at as it is to drink. Sometimes there is a bit of hesitancy on the part of people to try rosé Champagne; but for bubbles fanatics like myself, they are often the most memorable and pleasurable. The Rubis teases out flavors of every red berry fruit you can imagine, from the sweet to the tart, with a rich finish that’s like a dollop of some yet-to-be-discovered, otherworldly creamy goodness.

The 2004 Grand Cellier d’Or is a stunner. Like Krug (which is in my mind the gold standard of Champagne; the 1996 may be the best wine period I’ve ever had), Vilmart ferments and ages the still wine in barrels before transforming it into Champagne. This process gives the wines a richness and complexity that does a gorgeous dance with Champagne’s natural acidity and liveliness. Somehow the Grand Cellier is both substantial and ethereal at the same time.

So what Champagnes are you looking forward to enjoying this holiday season?

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