Pairing Food, Wine, and Fun!

My friends know I like wine tasting! And I’ve visited and talked to numerous people in the wine industry the past several years — through classes, volunteering at wineries, wine club memberships, working with the Seattle Wine Awards, and just for fun! So when Chef Carol Dearth, of Sizzleworks in Bellevue, suggested I attend her class on “Wine and Food Pairing from a Chef’s Point of View,” I jumped at the chance to learn something new. And I’m so glad I did.
I met Carol at Brian Carter Cellars during a wine club event. And at this class were two volunteers from Brian Carter — Kathleen and Deanna (seen with Carol below), along with a group of students who’ve been attending Carol’s cooking classes for 15 weeks. We started with champagne and popcorn drizzled with black truffle oil.  Once we had glasses in hand (photo at right), Carol led us through a series of glasses filled with many of the ‘smells’ we might identify in a glass of wine — including cherries, jam, strawberries, flowers, leather, charcoal (for smoky), vanilla, various oak and toasted oak. And then it was time to sit down and get serious.
We started with a Chateau Ste. Michelle Sauvignon Blanc. Carol asked us to perform the 5 S’s — ‘See’ the wine and check its color, Swirl it and then (my favorite here) Sniff it using what Carol calls ‘bunny sniffs!’ (Bunny sniffs are three rapid sniffs with your eyes closed to really smell the wine’s nose). Once we smelled the bouquet, we Sipped the wine and then Swirled it in our mouths to get all of our taste buds going! Remember, your ‘sweet’ taste buds are at the front of your mouth, while your ‘bitter’ taste buds are at the back. The final ‘S’ could be Spit – but I didn’t see many people actually doing that.
Then we described the wine, noting its characteristics – such as pear, minerality, floral, green apple, semi-dry and light-bodied with a short finish. Afterall, it’s a Sauvignon Blanc. (At this point, I’m already thinking I could be writing up those descriptions you see in the wine aisles and it’s only our first wine)! We paired it with smoked almonds and goat cheese. Delish!
We worked our way through Reisling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Cabernet Sauvignon, along with three mystery wines! Each step along the way, we performed the 5 S’s — identifying characteristics of the wines and pairing them with various foods Carol had prepared for us to taste with each wine.
Here are some of my ‘takeaways’:
1. A high-alcohol wine pairs well with high protein and high fat foods. (There’s a reason why those full-blown, high-octane Cabs go well with steak. The Cabernet also  tasted fabulous with bleu cheese).
2. Wine with high-acidity — like the Reisling, pair well with Bruschetta because tomatoes are also high-acid.
3. An earthy Pinot Noir (we had Buena Vista from the Carneros region near Sonoma) pairs beautifully with stuffed mushrooms to match the earthiness.
4. If you have a group of people who are all ordering different foods, pasta to steak to chicken to seafood, choose the Reisling for the white wine, and Pinot Noir for  the red. They ‘go with’ the highest variety of foods, rather than Chardonnay or Cabernet.
5. Creamy goat cheese or Chevre’ goes well with nearly every wine (according to Todd).
Now, I don’t want to spoil the mystery wines for any of you who might take Carol’s class at Sizzleworks (which I highly recommend). Suffice it to say, you will learn about serving wine at the right temperature! It’s like discovering the difference glassware makes when serving wine.
Carol’s best advice of the class — “Serve the food you love, with the wine you love, with the people you love!” Here’s the link to Carol’s cooking classes: Cheers!
Margo Myers

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