What happens when you take five sommeliers, give each one a blogger, a photographer, and a Twitter guru, and send them to four different locations around Austin with the mission to create the perfect pairing at each? If you answered "media frenzy," you are correct about that - but it's also the Keeper Collection Wine Ride, an event in which I was delighted to participate last weekend.
So, here's how it worked. Each team went to four different locations - Antonelli's Cheese, FINO, Foreign & Domestic, and Central Market Cooking School. At each location, they had several dishes, a couple of wines, and ten minutes to create the "perfect pairing."
I was excited to be chosen as a location blogger, on site at one of my favorite places, Antonelli's Cheese (which I previously blogged about here). The Antonellis chose six different cheeses for the somms to try - a gorgeous Coupole, an overripe Tomme Crayeuse (not to be confused with a certain Scientologist), a Majorero, an Ossau Iraty, Pleasant Ridge Reserve (named Best in Show at the American Cheese Society show three years in a row!), and a Dante. The two wines available to the somms at our location were a 2008 Domaine D'Ardhuy Ladoix Rouge les Chagnots Monopole and an N.V. Thierry Massin Brut Champagne.
Lots o' cheesy goodness
The Tomme Crayeuse was my hands-down favorite - so creamy and smooth and lush with a surprising note reminiscent of the richest whipped cream at the end. Heavenly.
What was cool about being a location blogger is that I got to see the different approaches each of the somms had to pairing. The first somm, June Rodil of Congress, was so delightful and engaging. She laughed as she explained that the "feet smell" in some cheeses pairs well with the minerality of champagne, adding that the key to a cheese pairing is to highlight the cheese without overwhelming it. Ultimately, June chose the Pleasant Ridge Reserve with the Ladoix as her perfect pairing. "The earthiness of the Pleasant Ridge is really singing to me right now," she enthused. "It makes the fresh cherry tones in the wine blossom."
June Rodil makes sniffing wine look glamorous
The next somm was Mark Sayre from TRIO at the Four Seasons. Unlike June, who tasted the food first, Mark first tasted the wines. "We're looking for a match that makes both [the food and the wine] better," he explained. He considered pairing the Dante with the Ladoix, saying that the higher acidity of the crunchy red fruits were a good match for the cheese, but in the end, he paired the champagne with the coupole, declaring, "the acidity of the white and the tanginess of the coupole are undeniable."
Mark Sayre checking out the cheeses
Next to arrive on the scene was Jason Huerta of Pappas Bros Steakhouse in Dallas. Jason chose my favorite pairing of the day - the Tomme Crayeuse with the Ladoix. "This is outside the box," he said. "I normally pair white wine with cheese, but this is the pairing that's popping for me. The Tomme isn't my favorite cheese, but it is magic with the red."
Jason Huerta getting a cheese tour from Kendall Antonelli
Sommelier Eric Hastings from Eddie V's in Houston arrived next. A former hockey player, Eric was as down-to-earth and approachable as they come. He seemed more like the kind of guy you'd find downing a draft than working towards a Master Sommelier Diploma, but his pairing, the Ossau Iraty with the champagne, was delicious.
Eric on the receiving end of Marshall Wright's discerning lens.
Last, but certainly not least, Somm Scott Barber from Centennial Wine & Spirits in Dallas arrived with his entourage. Although I didn't get a good photo of each of the teams, the one below gives you a feel for what these somms were dealing with at each location - a slew of ardent onlookers noting and documenting their every word, a photographer, a interested restauranteur, and ten minutes to taste all the food and the wines and create the perfect pairing. No pressure, right?
Scott with his winetourage.
Scott asked where the cheeses were from, which I thought was interesting - he explained that knowing the region where a cheese is made helps identify what flavors to expect. Although he usually pairs hard cheeses with red wine and soft cheeses with whites, he joined Jason Huerta in choosing my favorite pairing of the day - the Tomme Crayeuse with the Ladoix. "The Ladoix makes the Tomme explode with a deeper dimension," he proclaimed. "The wine makes the cheese better; the cheese makes the wine better - boom - that's why we do this."
I learned a ton about wine pairings during the Wine Ride, but I think my favorite lesson is that there's really no right answer. With just twelve different possible pairings, only two of the five highly qualified somms chose the same pairing - which tells me that a person's individual tastes are an important part of finding the perfect pairing. Like so many other challenges, you arrive armed with as much knowledge in your toolbox as you can, then choose the path that best suits you. Works for me.
Keeper Collection is giving out prizes for the Most Educational 2011 Wine Ride Somm - a secured spot in their new Somms Under Fire competition! Check out the somm videos and team blog posts, and vote for your favorite somm here and your favorite blogger/photographer/tweeter combo here.
Oh, and just because there hasn't been nearly enough food porn in this post, here's a pretty picture from you from the Wine Ride Afterparty at Uchiko. Eggplant nigiri...yeah, baby.