Sunday, March 11, 2012

Pairing at Augusta

I don't know when the trend of listing food and wine pairings on the back of wine bottle labels began, but I've never really paid attention to the suggested pairings. I suspect it all started with the rise of Robert Mondavi in the 1980s, the age when American winemakers were welcome to bring their craft into the American home following a long love affair with Bordeaux. Grab an American cabernet off the shelf at the grocery store and it will instruct the buyer on what he or she should eat with the wine. I don't abide by all of that "white wine with fish" and "red wine with steak." Heck, I drink Walla Walla cabernet out of a steel canister with fig Newtons on Ozark river float trips. I worry that non-wine drinkers will feel pigeonholed into eating a certain food with a certain wine rather than enjoying the experience of growing their palette. I really worry about that.

A handful of Missouri winemakers include on their labels what food to pair with their wine, as well. The most commonly encountered is "Norton with steak," a pretty typical sort of pairing, a hearty meal with a big hearty wine. I drink Norton with Thai curry, with kale frittata, with every vegetarian food I eat. But leave it to the fine folks at Augusta Winery to pair their outstanding dry wines with the most appropriate foods that highlighted the nuances of their award winning wines.

Forty wineries into the Missouri Wine Passport Program, I was invited to ask 9 friends to join me at a Missouri winery for a complimentary food and wine pairing. I had a list of a few wineries I wanted to visit, and Augusta was at the top. For the past month, I've corresponded with the charming manager there, Jessica, to decide on which wines to taste, and if any food allergies needed to be addressed before ginning up a food pairing menu. Augusta is known for their Norton, for their dry wines in general. Their grapevines are perched on a hilltop so they seldom suffer some of the challenging weather events that impact vines in the Ozark valleys. Their 07 Norton, the vintage that almost doesn't exist in most of Missouri because of the devastating April hard freeze, won the honor of being among the top 7 local wines in America in a recent taste test. (Since that time, Augusta has sold out of the 07 vintage, but still has an awesome 08 and a Norton Reserve available)

Dry wines only, please, all reds and a Traminette (the Missouri version of Gewurtztraminer, highly variable between wineries and always very interesting). We all descended on the Owl's Nest restaurant (located across the street from the Augusta tasting room) in the mid afternoon. The tables were well appointed with water bottles, four large pours of wine, and a small tray of food. We were being coached by the sweet manager there who, by the end of the event, had to shout over my garrulous fellow botanists and college friends from Louisiana. "The port is to be paired with the raspberry-dark chocolate truffle!" she yelled to be heard over all of us laughing...

Paired with small bites of mozzarella with jalapeno, a smidgen of romaine lettuce and a baguette, the Traminette was first on the list: bright acidity, floral nose, like bees in a lilac bush. Several of us tasted the wine and then tasted the wine again with the food to discover how the food enhanced the wine. The creaminess of the cheese brought out the smooth finish of the highly floral dry white wine. The tasting continued with smoked almonds paired with a Norton-Chambourcin blend, and smoked gouda-roast beef paired with Norton. If you haven't tried Norton with a smoked gouda, I urge you to do so. The smokiness of the Norton- part toasted Missouri white oak, part foxy native grape- really comes out with smoked gouda.

Well-researched food and wine pairings like yesterday's at Augusta Winery proves the science behind all those labels promoting certain foods with certain wines. I'll still drink Norton on float trips with Triscuits and $3 cheddar cheese, and will continue to send out dark chocolates with Norton port as gifts because they work so well together. As of yesterday afternoon, I am 17 winery visits away from a wine pairing dinner for four at the winery of my choice. I do hope Augusta is on the list.

1 comment:

Justin R. Thomas said...
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