Some things in life are perfectly paired. Take ying and yang, for example, architecture and poetry, fine wine and great food.
In search of the perfect pair Michelangelo Hotel's Piccolo Mondo restaurant hosts gourmet and wine evenings once a month. The evenings offer an excellent opportunity for different wine estates to showcase their wines in Johannesburg, while diners have the opportunity to meet new people, socialise over good food and enjoy exquisite wines. Guests are welcomed with delectable canapés upon arrival, while the executive Chef prepares a five-course meal to accompany the select wines being promoted.
"While wine and food matching is centuries old, the modern art of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon," says Piccolo Mondo's Executive Chef, Rob Creaser. "The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavour) in both food and wine interact with each other, which is why finding the right combination of these elements can make the dining experience more enjoyable. Evan Goldstein, one of the nation’s most prolific food and wine industry veterans, notes that food and wine pairing is like two people having a conversation: 'One must listen while the other speaks or the result is a muddle'. This means either the food or the wine will be the dominant focus of the pairing, with the other serving as a complement to enhance the enjoyment of the first."
It's all about finding the perfect balance, says Creaser. "In regards to weight and intensity, if the focus of the pairing is the wine then a more ideal balance will be a food that is slightly lighter in weight to where it will not compete for attention with the wine but not too light to where it is completely overwhelmed. If the focus of the pairing is to highlight a dish then the same thought would apply in pairing a wine."
Creaser advises when deciding which wine to order with your meal, to think of the dish holistically. Is it mild or flavourful? Is it fatty or lean? Is it rich or acidic? "Light, fruit flavoured dishes pair well with a lean Sauvignon Blanc, for example, while a Chardonnay, Pinot Grigio or Burgundy Red, compliments rich, creamy dishes," says Creaser. "Beyond weight, flavours and textures can either be contrasted or complemented. From there a food and wine pairing can also take into consideration the sugar, acid, alcohol and tannins of the wine and how they can be accentuated or minimised when paired with certain types of food. Off-Dry Riesling pairs well with sweet and spicy dishes while Moscato d'Asti loves fruit desserts. Barbera goes well with tomato-based dishes, Cabernet Sauvignon (medium or full bodied) matches to roast lamb and beef, or more complex dishes such as coq au vin, Gamay (served lightly chilled) is ideally served alongside griddled veggies, barbecued fish or spicy sausages, while Grenache suites game and cassoulet. Malbec is the perfect selection for grilled steak or braised beef, Merlot pairs well with Christmas turkey or roast chicken/ duck and Nebbiolo is great with a platter of cold meats."
When it comes to sweet endings, Creaser says white wines such as late-harvest Riesling and sparkling wines like demi-sec champagne/ Asti Spumanti go hand-in-hand with custard and vanilla, or other deserts that are mild, light and buttery. Fruit and spices (apples, pears, cinnamon) may be served with white wines like Sauternes, late-harvest Gewürztraminer or even pink champagne, while caramels and chocolates (or other deserts that are dark, buttery, caramelised and rich) may be served with red wine like late-harvest Pinot Noir, Grenache, Shiraz, port (classic chocolate pairing), and Grappa. Apricot tart, treacle sponge, or other sweet traditional puddings, are perfect with the sweet styles. Gewürztraminer (sweet) is ideal with fruit tarts. Sweet Chenin Blancs pair well with lemon deserts or a bread and butter pudding. Ice wine is almost a desert in itself and so is a great option if you do not feel like a desert."
For after dinner drinks, choose a classic Grand Marnier Cuvee du Cent Cinquantenaire - a blend of old cognacs with the essence of orange. Other options are Cognac and Armagnac (a traditional digestive/after meal drink), Vintage port or a rich Oloroso or sherry (usually savoured and highly appreciated and a lovely way to end off a great evening), Brandy Alexander cocktail (for a creamy coffee like finish to the evening) or Muscat (for a tailored palate, not usually requested although a great finish to full hearty meal).
Creaser admits that while simple rules apply to the pairing of food and wine, just like every wines' aroma differs so too does everyone's palate. "At the end of the day what you like to drink should always take precedence over any pairing recommendation. When in doubt remember that foods generally go best with the wines they grew up with. If you're eating French food, think about having a French wine. If you're going Italian, choose an Italian vino. South African cuisine? Pair with a local vineyard. This, of course, isn't set in stone but it does help simplify the decision. The only thing left to do is sit back, sip and enjoy – A votre sante!"