Pairing food and wine is part of a wine journalist’s job description, but I rarely write about specific pairings because, frankly, I’d rather generalize: Good wine goes with good food; bad wine goes with bad food. Take your pick. That said, I have had some recent wine/food experiences that are worth recounting.
On Valentine’s Day, I visited Sparkling Pointe (motto: “If it’s not sparkling, what’s the point?”) in Southold for a wine and chocolate tasting with the winery’s hospitable staff. They set me up with a proper format of champagne flutes, presenting four wines paired with four flavored Vosges chocolate bars. Being skeptical of wine and chocolate pairings, other than as a ploy to lure visitors into wineries, I tasted the four bubblies before trying them with chocolate, and was glad I did; they were far better alone.
First, the 2004, all-chardonnay Blanc de Blanc was clean, bright and pure, with a lovely creamy mouth feel. Tasting it with white chocolate seasoned with pink pepper and lemon (the “Amalfi Bar”) accentuated its citrus flavors but obliterated its balance.
The 2006 Sparkling Pointe Brut was woodier, with a finish that was nicely complex until I put some salty, plantain-studded “Habana” chocolate in my mouth. It wasn’t a good pairing, but it was provocative and instructive — a wake-up call to pay attention to the sensory experience way beyond the alcohol and bubbles. The way the wine’s acidity cut through the cocoa butter highlighted how it would similarly cut through other fats in the diet (a health tip?).
The winemaker, Gilles Martin (a Frenchman with long experience making Champagne and sparkling wines), joined the tasting, and we chatted about harvest and dosage strategies as we moved on to the 2007 Topaz Imperial, a pinot noir-driven rose bubbly with delicate fruit and food-worthy phenolics. Explaining that he had never before tried this wine paired with the bacon-flavored (“Mo’s”) chocolate on offer, Gilles declared, “This freaks my brain out. My brain doesn’t know what to say. I’m not a virgin any more about bacon. I wish I was.”
This is not to say that the bacony chocolate wasn’t good. But it was weird, and even weirder with wine.
The final pairing, of the 2001 Brut Seduction with Vosges “Woolloomoloo” (milk chocolate flavored with macadamia nuts, coconut and hemp), made for an interesting dynamic of sweet-salt-savory. The wine is absolutely first-rate, and so was the chocolate, but together? If you wear a ball gown and tiara to dance to Herman’s Hermits, then, yeah. Our honest winemaker had the definitive words again: “I love hazelnuts.”
When I went to Sparkling Pointe for this tasting, I was predisposed not to think it a valid pairing. When I left, I still agreed with myself, but was thrilled that I had done the tasting. It was great fun and extremely stimulating, brought out all sorts of aspects of wine and chocolate I hadn’t thought about, and made me appreciate the nuances of both. Besides, the space is lovely, the people are warm and genuine, the wines are fine, and a girl has to go out every once in a while.
More recently, I’ve been temporarily trying a vegan diet (no meat, fish, eggs or dairy products); not that I have anything against being a carnivore, but I wanted to force myself to try more vegetable-based foods, expand my flavor repertory and maybe do the planet a favor for a week or so. In the course of this experiment, I drank two different pinot grigios by a northern Italian producer of value-priced wines, Barone Fini. The first, their pinot grigio from Alto Adige (Tyrol), was perfect with a curry of lentils and chickpeas over rice. The wine had all the purity of its mountainous origins, and it yodeled along in harmony with the sitar of curry. (Excuse the metaphor.)
The next day, I tried the Barone Fini Valdadige Pinot Grigio. This wine, sourced from a broader area that makes vast oceans of pinot grigio, was a clunker with my dish of sesame noodles. I didn’t finish the bottle, but I tried it again the next day, this time with an eggplant, white bean and tomato gratin. Instead of putting the lid on the wine’s aroma, as the tahini noodles had, this dish was a fine foil for the wine, allowing its floral qualities to show. Or maybe the wine just got better, breathing overnight. Whichever it was, there was a marked difference in how the wine tasted with different foods. Or maybe I was just hungrier and thirstier.
Maybe I needed a piece of chocolate. With bacon?
Ms. Hargrave was a founder of the Long Island wine industry in 1973. She is currently a freelance writer and consultant.