Monday, January 4, 2010


Every expertise has its own lingo. In pairing food and wine, we rate matches from “no match – ugh” to “synergistic match – wow”, depending on how well the components, textures, and flavours in the food and the wine match up. A synergistic match means that all the stars align; both the food and wine are better together than on their own. One of my instructors in the sommelier program expressed another way of thinking about it: the food should lead you to drink the wine, and the wine should lead you to eat the food. Not to get too technical, but there are many elements that need to line up to achieve synergy. Aside from some classic matches that you can come across in reference books, finding a synergistic match is quite rare and sometimes a matter of luck.

Over the weekend, Michèle prepared a pan-fried salmon filet with pomegranate-hollandaise sauce. For a wine to match the dominant flavour of the sauce, my mind went in two directions: a New World cool-climate Pinot Noir or a dry Riesling. The Pinot Noir should have the acidity to stand up to the fattiness of both the salmon and the hollandaise sauce, and its red fruit flavours would match up with the pomegranate. Then I tasted the sauce and, although I think the Pinot Noir would work, my instinctive reaction was immediate: I wanted to try an Alsatian Riesling. Why? The acidic tang and flavours of the pomegranate mellow quite a bit in the hollandaise sauce, making it ever-so-slightly sweet. Over the past 20 years, Alsatian Rieslings have suffered from an unfortunate trend: generally, the levels of residual sugars are higher, yielding wines that seem more full-bodied and rounder. They’re fine on their own but more difficult to match with food. However, that residual sugar just might work here.

Luckily, I had a bottle of Comte D’Eguisheim Riesling 2003, AOC Alsace, 13% ABV, made by Leon Beyer in Alsace. 2003 was a very hot summer throughout Europe, yielding wines that were fuller-bodied than usual across the board.  (Look at that label!  Are they fans of the Miami Dolphins?)

This 2003 Riesling has lots of minerality on the nose, along with aromas of cooked peach and pear, citrus, honey, and a bit of smoke. The concentrated stone fruit and citrus flavours continue on the palate. Medium-bodied, it’s surprisingly round, even a tiny bit sweet, but the acidity that I love in traditional Alsace Riesling is also certainly there.

With the food, it’s even better on so many levels. The wine’s acidity counters the fattiness of the salmon and the hollandaise sauce. Although both the wine and the sauce give a slight impression of sweetness, they balance each other. The pomegranate fruit in the sauce and the wine’s stone fruit and citrus flavours work superbly together; neither the flavours of the wine nor of the food overwhelms the other.

Synergy? I think so. On their own, they were each delicious. Together, even better. This match would not have worked as well with a leaner style of Riesling. And I’m still curious what the New World Pinot Noir would be like… have to try that soon.

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