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Feb 7, 2008 06:07 PM

Knock-your-socks-off wine pairings

Occasionally you hit upon a food and wine paring that simply awes you, that leaves you drop-jawed. A pairing where the wine and the food amplify each other, are greater than the sum of their parts.

I'm not talking here about "pretty good is good enough" matches but rather pairings you'll never forget. ("I remember clearly the day that I became convinced of the gastronomic need to find exactly the right wine for the right food. For years, I'd been content to make sure my matches were good enough -- for acceptable matches offer a great deal of pleasure. But the sommelier at Lucas-Carton in Paris turned me into a fiend for perfection when he served four wines with four cheeses with a precision that can only be described as surgical. It was the cheese course of my life, and I'll never forget it." -David Rosengarten in *Red Wine with Fish*)

Here's a thread for recording them. Not general pinciples, mind you. Not "Chardonnay is THE lobster wine." Nope, specific vintages of specific wines with specific dishes ON AN AS-YOU-ENCOUNTER-THEM BASIS.

All this is prompted by a fortuitous match this evening, one of my best in years. The dish was a classy (but store-bought!) veal marengo made with veal, mushrooms, bell peppers, pearl onions, veal demi-glace and assorted herbs. I'd been thinking of opening a Merlot-dominated Bordeaux or a Bourgueil but a French sommelier's guide insisted Côtes du Rhône was the red way to go. Fortunately, I had a 2004 CDR from Vieille Juilienne (a fabulous under-the-radar producer, who also makes a knockout Châteauneuf du Pape). *Coup de foudre*! The wine added a spiciness the veal was lacking. The mellow and savoury veal tamed the wine's alcohol and brought out a complex herby fruitiness that wasn't there on its own. Conversation stopped. Time stood still. Definiitely greater than the sum of the parts.

Please share your own awe-inspiring pairings as you encounter them.

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  1. Speaking of feu Lucas Carton ...
    November 2003. White truffles on polenta, washed down with a 1995 Bonneau du Martray Corton Charlemagne. Simplicity and perfection in a dish and a glass. Bliss can get different, but not any higher.

    1. 1995 Quintarelli Amarone. 1 big-ass hunk of Reggiano Parmesan cheese.

      1999 Flor de Pingus. Flash-marinated butterflied leg of lamb (rosemary, garlic, pepper, lemon juice, olive oil) grilled over super hot coals scented with mint and rosemary.

      1995 Roda I Rioja. Seared rib veal chop in porcini sauce at Taberna del Alabardero in Washington DC.

      1 Reply
      1. re: whiner

        i was wondering, how old were each of these wines upon opening?

      2. A few weeks ago, after spending the entire weekend painting our soon-to-be nursery, my wife made me one of my favorite dishes, osso buco.

        The shanks were braised for a few hours in red wine, stock, fresh herbs, aromatics and finished with a demi-glace based sauce before serving. Considering it was a Sunday night and my wife couldn't help me polish off a good bottle of wine, I picked an '03 Cameron Hughes Lot 15 cab with very low expectations.

        The wine had decanted for about 20-30 minutes and my first sip did not offer high hopes. Tannic, disjointed and "hot".

        However, like magic, after a few bites of the osso buco and then coming back to the wine, it was a completely different experience. The fattiness of the shanks cut through the harsh tannins and created a velvety mouthfeel and then lush dark fruits and cocoa burst forth from nowhere.

        I was stunned. I've never been fond of CH wines, but this combo of food and wine melded perfectly.

        3 Replies
        1. re: vinosnob

          Vinosnob, You've touched on a point made by a good friend of mine: "You can drink wine as a cocktail or you can drink wine with food. However, they are not the same." I too have noticed how your wine experience can be altered immensely at the table. Recently I served a Dona Beatrix Spanish Sauvignon with mussel bisque. It was an amazing combination.

          1. re: Walters

            No higher calling IMO than the alchemy that occurs between the right food and the right wine. The wine especially becomes something wholly different and more wonderful in the process.

          2. re: vinosnob

            Keep in mind, that if you taste raw cocoa it will be disgusting... but combine it with milk and sugar and you have one of the world's very favorite foodstuffs.

            Sounds like the osso bucco "decanted" the cabernet for you, and maximized the fruit layers.

          3. Churchs extra crispy fried chicken with Camille Saves Brut Rose....simply one of the best combos I have ever had in my mouth

            4 Replies
            1. re: bubbles4me

              Oh dear, bubbles4me. You are making me cry, knowing I can't possibly hope to recreate this seemingly perfect combination in the near future...

              1. re: moh

                Oh but Moh you have to try!!! No Churchs near you? Just hunt down your favorite fried chicken and let the corks fly!

                1. re: bubbles4me

                  Feel very sorry for me.... i do not live in a city with good fried chicken... perhaps I'll have to break my rule about not making my own fried chicken and just do it... Because it sounds wonderful!!!!

              2. re: bubbles4me

                This begs the question: Which wine with Popeye's chicken?

              3. Not sure I've ever had a true pairing epiphany, but I've heard interesting things about Gewurstraminer and lamb.