Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Sitting In Judgement

I’ve said it before: finding a perfect match of wine with food is an elusive thing.  But it’s a challenge that sommeliers and foodies love to pursue.  It’s the motivation that drives members of both groups to sign up for the Wine and Food Matching course at Algonquin College in ever larger numbers.

For the final exam of this course, teams of students prepare a food dish and match it with the wine that they think works best.  The teams submit a paper that describes why they chose the food dish, how they chose the matching wine, and why they think this match is the best.

The final exam isn’t just a paper exercise.  The teams must prepare the food dish, either at home beforehand or in the kitchen at Algonquin's Restaurant International, and serve it with their chosen wine to a panel of judges, a la Master Chef.

When the course instructor – Liam Doody – again invited me to be a judge for the final exam on Monday evening, I happily accepted.  (You can read about my previous experiences here.)   Working your way through 15(!) different wine and food matches, put together by teams of students, is a great way to spend a Monday evening.

In return, I only have to offer an opinion, together with my fellow judge, on the merits on each match and award a medal to deserving participants.  My judging partner this time around was fellow sommelier, Éva Nagy, who hangs out at sit. sip. savour. and has a few other irons in the fire.  (My sincere thanks to Éva for supplying a couple of the photos shown below.  Sometimes I get so absorbed in the wine and food that I forget to take a picture!)

After tasting each dish with its matching wine, we awarded "medals" based on the following criteria:
  • Gold:  The wine and food pairing adds to the enjoyment of the wine AND the cuisine.
  • Silver:  The wine and food pairing adds to either the enjoyment of the wine OR the cuisine, but not both.
  • Bronze:  The wine and food pairing does not add to, nor detract from, the enjoyment of either the wine or the cuisine.
  • No Certificate:  The wine and food pairing detracts from either, or both, the enjoyment of the wine or the cuisine.
Many things have to come together to receive a gold medal.  The food has to be well prepared.  The wine has to show its best features.  It's not meant to be easy.

Here are the interesting food and wine matches that we sampled and upon which we rendered our verdicts.  Congratulations to all!  (And my apologies to one team of students for which I failed to capture a photo of their entry.  As I said before, sometimes the photos get overlooked in the excitement of judging.)

Guacamole with Domaine de la Chanaise Morgon 2010 
The goal was to fire up the effect of the chilies in the guacamole. 
Mission accomplished.
(no photo, sorry)
Crostini, Chèvre, Prosciutto with Bisol Credi Brut Prosecco Valdobbiadene Superiore NV
Here's a match where texture is everything.  The Prosecco has initial green apple acidity (matching the salty tang of the prosciutto) but finishes with a creamy texture (harmonizing with the creamy chèvre texture).  So absorbing you forget the damn camera!


Mushroom Crostini with Kim Crawford Pinot Noir 2011
A classic Old World match with a New World twist.  It's an Earthy Kit.

Cheese Plate (Brie, Cheddar, Parmigiano Reggiano, Danish Blue)
with Liberty School Cabernet Sauvignon 2009
The contrasting cheese textures and flavours made for a challenging match.


Icelandic Lobster Soup with Cave Spring Sauvignon Blanc 2010
Northern Exposure.  A recipe brought back from a recent trip to Iceland (easily the bravest food attempt of the evening) paired with a crisp Niagara white.


Potato Leek Soup with House Wine Company Vidal Moscato 2011
When you just gotta have wine with soup.
Soup's earthy flavours meet up with an off-dry fruity white.  Success!


Curried Prawns with Pierre Sparr Gewürztraminer 2010
A classic match.  The off-dry, oily-textured wine calms the spicy heat of the food.  Just what the doctors ordered.


Mac + Cheese with Trius Sparkling Brut NV
Mac + Cheese...you've come a long way baby.
Underused with food, this shows just how versatile sparkling can be.  Brut strength!


Mac + Cheese Baconator with Nicolas Maillet Macon-Verzé 2009
Acidity of a Bourgogne Chardonnay cuts through the creamy cheese texture while matching the smoke of bacon.
 Doubling down on Mac + Cheese...am I back in university?


Photo courtesy of Éva Nagy

Thai Curry Meatballs with Flat Rock Cellars Riesling 2011
Sommelier Secret Revealed:  Riesling is THE most food friendly wine and this match shows one reason why:  fruitiness calms the curry spice just enough and fits the coconut milk, ginger, and cilantro flavours like a glove.  Excellent!




Beef Stew with Bonterra Zinfandel 2010
It's a classic stew with a spicy tomato kick that could overwhelm many wines, but not this organic Zin.

Curried Lentil + Vegetable Stew with Pelee Island Gamay Noir Zweigelt 2010
It's the herbal aromas and flavours in both the wine and the food that makes this match work well.  This lighter-style stew also fits the light-bodied red wine.  An ideal autumn dish.


Pear Apple Ginger Tart with Woodbridge Moscato 2011
Here's a wonderful tree-fruit flavour match:  pears and apples from the tart, peach from the off-dry wine, and spicy honey elements in both.  Delicious and light!

Torte Caprese with Amabile Degli Angeli Recioto della Valpolicella Classico 2007
    OK, full disclosure.  Both judges worked at DiVino Wine Studio as sommeliers-in-training but at different times.  So seeing this rarity (Recioto) wins us over immediately.  Ah, but the match is wonderful, matching 2 Italian classics:  flourless chocolate almond cake from Capri in the south with the medium sweet cherry and chocolate marvel from the north.  Fantastico!

Photo courtesy of Éva Nagy


Bittersweet Chocolate Brownie + Raspberry Port Sauce with Cline Ancient Vines Zinfandel 2010
20 years ago, the rage was chocolate matched with California Cab.  I was never convinced.  But last week I tasted a Douro red with a chocolate dessert.  And now comes Zinfandel with chocolate...makes delicious sense!


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