The rules: The wines will move from the top of the North Island to the bottom of the South Island. Each wine was to compliment the food it was being served with and each wine was to be from further south than the one served before it.
Turns out, not so much. When I went out hunting for wines I was laughed at, told I was the worst customer ever (in the nicest way possible) and encouraged to reconsider. But once I’ve got a plan, I just find a way to make it happen. So although it wasn’t easy, it was possible. This was my second wine evening at home with a group of friends. And I must say, I was very impressed with just how well the wines complimented the food.
On arrival: Man O’ War Tulia Méthode Traditionelle 2009, Waiheke Island
A lively tickling on the tongue to awaken the taste buds and a celebration of delicious food, fine wine and great friends coming together. The perfect opener to a wonderful evening. A starkly dry wine with just the faintest hint of welcoming sweetness.
Tip – a nice aperitif on arrival helps to stimulate the appetite and is an easy welcome while you wait for all the guests to arrive. Besides champagne or other sparkling wines any dry, light white wine works well. As this is the introduction to the evening and the welcome to your guests ensure it’s nothing too old, too cheap or too oaked.
Paired with calamari: Matawhero Pinot Gris 2001, Gisborne
This delicate, fruity wine came with a beautiful weight and texture. The light as air Pinot Gris, with its notes of stewed apple, was well paired with the crunch and spice of the calamari.
Tip – the calamari was served lightly-battered and fried. The Pinot Gris was a good choice as it helped to cut through the oil from the frying. The wine you pick will depend greatly on how oily the fish or seafood you’re serving is, how the dish is being prepared and any sauces that will be included. If you don’t know where to start the general rule is to look for a light, crisp white.
While we wait for the next course: Mt Hector Pinot Gris 2011, Wairarapa
A welcoming wine with notes of apple, peach and melon on the nose. In the mouth it was lead by the fruit again – pear and honeysuckle – this crisp wine was well balanced with a welcoming hit of acidity. For the price, it was truly remarkable.
Tip – there are a couple of ways to approach a wine and food evening, have a few bottles for each course so you can keep people’s glasses full while they wait for what’s next (although you risk overindulgence); exercise military precision in your approach the timing courses so that as soon as one is done the next is ready to go (this is if you want to add extra stress and pressure to the evening) or have an extra bottle or two so if people are eating and drinking faster than you’re getting the courses ready you can keep them happy and entertained.
With the mussels: John Forrest Collection The White 2006, New Zealand wine
The trick with this one was to try the wine before the food then try it again with the food and marvel at the metamorphosis of the wine. A collection of the best white grapes from a selection of site throughout New Zealand. Sweet and perfumed with notes of pear and passion-fruit on its own. Mixed with the mussels provencal, this wine becomes dry, acidic with the focus shifted to citrus fruits. A beautiful wine, it was well received by the group.
Tip – the White was my wild card, it could easily be slotted in anywhere. With a blended wine the nature of the wine changes based on it’s circumstances. A chilled bottle is poured, it oxidises and warms in the glass each sip brings a whole new wine. It’s also heavily influenced by the food it’s paired with, the characteristics of different grapes come shining through with different dishes.
With the salads: Bilancia Syrah 2010, Hawke’s Bay
Simply beautiful wine, well-balanced and deeply-coloured. Weighty and full-bodied. This wine is like a big box of black cherries loaded into a wooden crate, the fruit sits behind the wooded nature. With aromas of tobacco, pepper and spice, this wonderfully dry wine is comfortably blended with the fruity splash of those boarded up cherries.
Tip – If you’re got a simple garden salad the weighty Syrah is probably not going to be your first choice. Following the typical rules that accompany wine and food pairings Syrah would nicely match a bloody steak. In this case it worked as the salads served had the strong flavours of feta, black pepper, tomato, vinegar and a pinch of chili. It’s like with boxing matches where you face off against someone in a similar weight category. You wouldn’t have a lightweight garden salad going up against a heavyweight Syrah.
With the bruschetta: Isabel Pinot Noir 2008, Marlborough
A light bodied Pinot Noir with the expected red fruit and plums present on the nose. With fruit on the nose this wine becomes dry and spice in the mouth, which really sings with the acidity of the tomatoes on the bruschetta. Finishing with healthy tannins, this wine develops more fruit flavours as it is left to breathe.
Tip – pinot noirs love tomato. Or more generally, they’re complemented by the acidity and tartness in the tomatoes. Pinot noirs are considerable lighter than Syrah. So where a Syrah is suited to fattier or heavier meats, Pinot noir likes the leaner cut. The Pinot is a bit of a delicate flower. Sweet foods will overwhelm the wine, anything too heavy or rich will overpower the wine. But so long as you avoid those things you shouldn’t pair with a Pinot, the options of what you can pair it with opens up considerable options.
With the mediterranean pizza: Muddy Water Rose 2011, Waipara
Heavily perfumed with floral notes and rose petals. Fresh and funky the wine was able to call on its sweetness when confronted with a hit of chili or taste or the smokey mushrooms from the pizza and unwrapped the cloaked tannins when you had a bit that was more tomato. This wine was a clear favourite for a few, a bit of a mixed bag for others. For all it was an eye opener that a rose can be a real wine.
Tip – don’t rule out rosés. I’ve met several people who will readily proclaim that Rosé is not real wine. Understandable. Many people are inducted into wine drinking through the cotton floss pink, super sweet version of a rosé. But it doesn’t need to be that way, a more grown up version of a rosé can be dry, vibrant and refreshing. Muddy Water and Kennedy Point both do crisp, clean, fruity rosés that are worth sampling especially as we move into summer and barbeques.
To finish: Mondillo Nina Late Harvest Riesling 2011, Central Otago
The evening and the tasting finished with an array of cheese and a well structured-sticky. Opening with tropical fruits overlaying bananas and vanilla. It was the texture, the balance and the structure of this wine that made it a real stand out. It was able to hold its own among the onslaught of flavours and aromas from the cheese.
Tip – digestifs round out a meal. As they’re served on a full stomach they’re typically higher in alcohol and sweetness than the aperitif. They’re also usually served in much smaller quantities. Serving a syrupy or sweet drink at the start of a meal can dull the taste buds as opposed to stimulate appetite. It can also be too heavy and too strong for an empty stomach. Digestifs are typically a herbal liqueur, such as limoncello, or a fortified wine, like a port or sherry. Classically a late harvest or dessert wines wouldn't be considered a digestif, but paired with some strong cheeses it rounded the evening off nicely.