Mise en placeFrequent wine tastings are vital to the role of wine buyer, important to stay fully immersed, committing flavors, vintage variation, producers and regions to memory in hopes of better serving customers. Valuable though my time spent tasting is, it frequently lacks enough of one crucial part, and that is food pairings. To even things out a bit more, I happily accepted an invitation to pair food and wine for a Food-Writers’ dinner last month.

Soup StTo be five courses deep, I selected three wines for the dinner that I felt would best complement the diversity of the menu—keeping in mind the season and the broad strokes of the meal—while trying hard not to over-think it.  Lemons were overly abundant, making starring appearances in nearly every course—save for the cheese plate—and I leaned heavily on white wines, until the main course (a salmon over bed of sorrel in cream), where I would transition to a light-bodied red as a break from the unwritten script (fish and white wine).

We opened with a refreshingly cool avocado soup, with hints of green pepper, chive and a touch of cream. Not only was the presentation stunning but also the soup was quite substantial. The 2011 Pieropan Soave Classico was called upon to assist with its citrus accent and crisp acidity to reset our taste buds after each palate-coating spoonful.

Salmon StkWe moved into a salad with lemon vinaigrette, croutons and light dusting of Parmesan. Partially motivated by the bitter greens, I decided that a 2009 Williams Selyem Unoaked Chardonnay would be a good way to go, propelling the fruit core of the Russian River Valley wine while harmonizing with the bready croutons and subtle cheesy flavors. They meshed perfectly.

Becker B SpatReserving a glass of Chardonnay each, for comparison purposes, we segued into the salmon and opened a seven-fifty of 2008 Friedrich Becker “B” Pinot Noir. The main course and wine collided with colossal force—complexity from both quarters was brought to an apex with noticeable tension. The developing scents on the Pinot Noir suggestive of red cherry, cardamom, pepper, mushroom and cedar chimed nicely with the savory character of the salmon. The chardonnay, though friendly to the creamier elements of the plate was no match for the Spätburgunder (Pinot Noir), but the latter ably supported the course without taking the glory even while displacing the Chardonnay.

We savored the last drops of the Pinot Noir while the cheese plate rolled out. Demanding and intricate, I opted for an Austrian sparkler—leftovers from the host—to help us navigate the range of flavors, especially that nettle cheese! It got along famously and by the time Sharon’s perfect lemon tart had been plated we were all ready for cups of coffee.

Thankful for the opportunity to contribute in the smallest degree, I was really happy to be part of the dinner. Every plate was carefully put together and delicious; insight behind the courses and the people who made them were wonderful bonuses. One of the best qualities of wine is its ability to bind; in this case not only were the food and drink components tied together but the people sharing the dinner were also united. That’s something I don’t get often from just tasting.