27 Jun Special of the day: A Master Sommelier’s Guide to Summer Sipping
Summer is for sipping, I say. It’s the perfect time to dive right in and try new wines as well as wine and food pairings. But where to begin? Staring at that well-stocked wall of wine can be intimidating. No worries, it’s Robert Jones to the rescue in this week’s Special of the Day: A Master Sommelier’s Summer Sipping Guide.
It’s not often you get the rare opportunity to wine taste with a Master Sommelier, so it’s little wonder that when Robert Jones came to Great Falls a few weeks back, the wine lovers in town poured in and overflowed the place. Jones received his Master Sommelier diploma in 2001, becoming number 49. There are now 122 American masters and 189 worldwide.
How lucky we were to meet Robert Jones, the national account manager for Kysela Pere et Fils, LTD. in Wincester, Virginia, who paid us a visit during his busy schedule of travel providing wine tastings across the United States. Using a deductive format where your eyes, nose, palate and reasoning give you the clues, Jones led us through his Taste like a Sommelier wine tasting produced by Wines by Wednesday and Mark Tronson. With a deductive tasting, you decide what the wine is not and then select from the pool of remaining wines what it possibly could be.
For example, “A very floral nose with orange blossom, honeysuckle and peach notes leads me to eliminate Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Grigio and go to the Muscat family,” Jones said. He uses the system because it works and is a good mental workout. He believes that with practice anyone can use the deductive tasting format. “It makes you a better taster by building smell and taste memory and gives a framework around which to work,” Jones said.
As far as pairing wine with food, Jones said the best and easiest rule is geographic matching. “If a food comes from an area that also makes wine, chances are they will work together.” You can also pair on textures, Jones said. Matching similar mouth feels works with richer dishes and wines. Matching on contrasting flavors works well with light and medium bodied foods and wines, too.
“Salt will decrease your perception of acidity, so a salty cured meat with a young, zippy Chianti is often a good match,” according to Jones. For dessert, the wine should always be less sweet than the food, Jones advises, and a wine with little or no oak ageing is better with food than one that is well-oaked. Robust, intense foods do best with young wines while subtle nuanced foods demand older wines from cooler areas.
That said, Jones advises not to stress when choosing a wine to go with the food you are serving. “As long as the food is good and the wine is good, people enjoy both,” he said. Select wine that is a notch in intensity below what you are serving. “I prefer young, fresh wines with most meals because I like bold flavors and younger wines are more robust,” Jones said. “Older, more mature wines are very subtle and it is necessary to serve simply prepared and lightly seasoned foods with these older wines.”
Five favorite food and wine pairings of Jones are:
1) Fruit based desserts & Moscato d’Asti – an example of pairing similar flavors. The slight sweetness and low alcohol of the Moscato complements and supports most fruits, and the slight spritz (the style is frizzante in Italian) helps convey the impression of lightness.
2) Raw oysters & Muscadet or Picpoul de Pinet – these two wines combine bright acidity and a saline/mineral edge which enhances raw shellfish and cleans up the metallic/ocean/iodine flavors that they sometimes have. They perform the same function as the wedge of lemon, and their combination of low pH and 12% – 13% ethanol kills most/all harmful bacteria.
3) Squab Schnitzel & Southern Rhône reds – The crispy-crunchy schnitzel crust and rare squab breast are one of Jones’ all-time favorite foods. Southern Rhône reds based on Grenache have a warm, rich berry and spice profile that enhances and complements the squab.
4) Any firm, white-fleshed fish cooked en papillote with tomato, fennel and Pernod & Provencal Rose – this is a favorite fish preparation. The aromas that emerge from the parchment are heavenly…a fishy/tomatoey/licorice-like blast and a bite of the fish, tomato and fennel quickly followed by a slug of Rose is one of the most sublime pairings that Jones has come across. Each enhances the other.
5) Crisp, fresh and cool Fino Sherry & snacks such as marcona almonds, green olives, jamon Iberico and roasted red peppers – once you’ve spent time in Spain and had a late, leisurely afternoon enjoying this relaxed combination you will understand, Jones said. Of course the same combination of food and drink would taste great after a hike up a mountain or by a riverbank. This is a compact meal that can be carried and served anywhere.
Party planning is that much easier when Jones steps in and gives specific recommendations on some classic summer selections.
Barbecue: For dry, seasoned meats, wines such as Austrian Zweigelt, Cru Beaujolais, Lodi Zinfandel and Piemontese Barbera work well. If you start adding smoky or sweet sauces, then pick your favorite beer- IPA, Belgian tripel or whatever. For a vinegar-based sauce I like Chianti Rufina, Aleatico & Nebbiolo.
French picnic: Whatever is young and fresh and packed into a non-glass container. As long as the company and food are good you’ll enjoy it.
Brunch: – The trick here is finding something that does not clash. Bubbles are best. My go-to brunch wine is the same as my favorite dessert wine – Moscato d’Asti. The fresh flavors and low alcohol are perfect for mid-day imbibing. If your budget is agreeable, a Blanc de Blancs Champagne form a small grower (such as Roland Champion ) can’t be beat.
Pan fried trout: Something citrusy and crisp but with a round, rich texture, a Mâcon Blanc…e.g. Guillemot-Michel, Mâcon-Villages, which is ripe and round, and unoaked, and one of the most decadent and luxurious wines from the region. A less expensive wine that works from a different angle would be an off-dry German Riesling, from the Mosel if you like a leaner/edgier wine and from the Rhine if you like a fuller, richer style. Bastgen & Matheus are two fine Mosel producers and Winzer von Erbach is a very good cooperative in the Rhine.
Summer sipping: Crisp, light white wines. South African Chenin Blanc ( 2011 Pieter Cruythoff, 2011 The Royal) , Verdejo from Rueda (2011 palacio de Bornos), Picpoul de Pinet (2011, HB, Caves de Pomerols), Sauvignon Blanc from Chile (2011 Crucero) or South Africa (2011 Riebeek Cellars), Albariño from Rias baixas (2011 Valmiñor)
If you’re still thirsty for more information on wine and on pairing wine with food, Jones recommended three books, which he says are all that you need to learn about wine and pass any test:
1) Oxford Companion to Wine by Jancis Robinson
2) Sotheby’s World Wine Encyclopedia by Tom Stevenson
3) World Atlas of Wine by Hugh Johnson & Jancis Robinson
Summing up his thoughts succinctly, Jones said, “Learning food and wine pairing involves repeated trials with good friends, not a bad thing, I think.”
Sydne George is a food journalist specializing in recipe development, food writing and food photography. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org . Sydne’s recipes from “Special of the day” are archived at http://sydnegeorge.com/blog/.