July 18, 2009

Fabulous Food and Wine Pairings

Everyone who loves good food and good wine feels a special kind of joy when a great wine and food pairing presents itself. Those who enjoy those magic moments like to say that the occasion manifests itself when both the wine and the food is enhanced by each other - kind of like a great partnership between two people, where each brings out the best in the other.
Enough of the romantic metaphors! Over the last couple of months I've had the great privilege of judging a couple of Algonquin College wine and food course final projects - a very tough job, but someone has to do it! I recall this course fondly from my own venture through the Sommelier Program. It's enormous fun, filled with sensible theory and yummy practice. I would highly recommend it for anyone who loves an occasional or regular glass of wine with a meal. After several weeks of tasting and testing and understanding, students are required to produce an ultimate pairing of their own choice, complete with a justification paper. Students typically work in groups of two or three, and take this project very seriously. Usually there are several gatherings beforehand where each group designs, prepares and cooks, while testing a dizzying array of possible wine matches to find the one they deem to be the best. The accompanying paper describes the process and explains why, in the team's opinion, the chosen pairing works best.
On judgement evening, the two judges are presented with a gorgeous array of beautifully prepared samplings of each team's dish and selected beverage, and then given an insanely short amount of time to sample all the pairings, judge them all individually, provide comments and award medal standings up to the ultimate gold. I say insanely short, because the desire is to linger over each pairing, savouring the lovingly prepared array of dishes, and leisurely contemplating the accompanying wine or other beverage. But the evening involves a bit of a foodfest for the students afterwards, where they can sample each others delicacies and wines, so time is of the essence for the judges, conscious of a classful of hungry students, anxiously waiting down the hall for the party to begin!
Gold awards are given out for those perfect, made in heaven pairings, where the food enhances the wine, the wine enhances the food. Although we'd like to linger with these and polish off a complete plateful and a couple of glasses, the silver and bronzes need a bit more time. Those are the matches that are very decent, but not quite out of this world, and even the most seasoned judging palates and noses need to work harder at describing the aspects of acidity, tannins, weight, texture, fruit or whatever that didn't quite work to absolute perfection.
There's a huge amount of subjectivity in this, of course - that's why there's more than one judge. The effort, thought and creativity that goes into the projects is absolutely enormous. Everyone deserves gold for that!
Personally, I love the process of consciously considering what I eat and drink - the origins, growing and cultivation methods, preparation, balancing the aromas, flavours and textures, the visual appeal, and enjoying how it all works together. There are so many requirements these days to grab a quick bite on the run, so it's just marvellous to slow down and consciously consider and enjoy what we put into our stomachs. That's a habit that all students in this program can reacquaint themselves with, while enjoying their newly acquired matching skills. This is a terrific class - whether you're a student or a judge!
The photos throughout are just a few samples of the recent fare on project night. Mmmmmmm!