PLANNING wines to go with a meal is a welcome excuse to take a break for an hour or two in the cellar browsing through the bins and the cases. At 10 deg C in there, it is cold, a welcome change from the current torrid weather, and a thick coat is a necessity if one spends more than a few minutes there. Moving cases around and stacking them is also good exercise, the only one I get these days!
Wines to go with the meal depend first on which is/are the highlight(s) - the food or the wines. Or the matching of both, best of all. Also to be factored into the criteria for selection is the occasion for the dinner. A special guest, a VIP? Or just a gathering of the usual bunch of gourmets and gourmands? Is there a special theme for the wines or just an appropriate matching of wine and food? It may at first appear unnecessarily complicated and convoluted but sometimes it does matter!
A welcome aperitif first to greet my guests and to help stimulate appetites and loosen tongues! Especially if the guests are not very familiar with each other, as in a more formal setting, eg birthday dinners. Champagne is the perfect aperitif but which? For informal dinners among familiar faces, a non-vintage Brut works well, not expensive and does the job. A standard non-vintage brut from any Grand Marque will do. My favourites are the NV Brut from Laurent Perrier, Roederer and Pol Roger. When the occasion calls for it, the current vintage champagne from the above Grands Marques is a reliable choice. The presence of VIP guests or a special occasion calls for a grander champagne to mark the occasion. Dom Perignon is perhaps the most familiar and a no-brainer. My preference is for Laurent-Perrier's Grand Siecle NV, or Krug Grand Cuvee. There are some more special champagnes but that is another story.
A budget-friendly tip: buy non-vintage brut champagnes and age them a year or preferably more. They become less sharp, mellower and creamy, indistinguishable from vintage, even deluxe champagnes. This storage and ageing method is of course the same used for all white and red wines. Applied to non-vintage champagnes, it works very well.
Traditional time-honoured and tested matching guidelines are useful as starting points from which to depart for more unconventional choices. To break the rules successfully, one must first be familiar with them. Conventional guidelines call for white wine with seafood and white meat, red wine with red meat; no red wine with shellfish; white before red and younger before older ones. Simple guidelines but choices available in each category can be bewildering. There are vast numbers of both white and red wines, Old and New World, and the even more bewildering types of grapes both white and red. Matching foods and wines calls for a good memory bank - in which the flavours of the dishes and the wines are stored. (Just think "Singapore chicken rice"!)
The menu with accompanying wines shown below was for a dinner to welcome Egon Muller IV of Weingut Egon Muller-Scharzhof. Egon is an old friend and no stranger to Singapore and it is always a pleasure to receive him. It gives an opportunity to present his wines to our small group and also a means of getting the latest news on the German wine front.
Krug Grand Cuvee
Parfait of Sturgeon with Oscietra Caviar
Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett 2001,
Weingut Egon Muller-Scharzhof
Parcel of Boston Lobster and "Joselito" Jamon
With Kampachi and Uni in Saffron Sauce
Volnay 1er cru Champans 2003, Domaine des Comtes Lafon
Slow-cooked Pigeon from Bresse
With Zucchini Flower and Quinoa
Chateau Ausone Premier Grand Cru Classe?A? 1996
Scharzhofberger Riesling Eiswein 1993
Weingut Egon Muller-Scharzhof
The recipe for the amuse gueule is from a very old and very dear friend, Dieter Kauffman, of the highly regarded restaurant Zur Traube in Grevenbroich, near Dusseldorf. The perfect accompaniment for this is champagne, but in this case I chose an 11-year-old Scharzhofberger Riesling Kabinett from Egon Muller. German Kabinetts are lovely wines but sometimes the degree of sweetness becomes difficult to match with food. A useful method is to use older Kabinetts - my preference is 10-year-old ones - because with time in a bottle, the sweetness becomes attenuated and the wine thus becomes easier to match. This 10-year-old Kabinett was still a little sweet but with a smooth, piercing acidity, a combination which matched the dryness and smokiness of the smoked sturgeon, the saltiness (and light fishiness) of the caviar.
Tip: German Rieslings age almost forever, far longer than white Burgundy, due to their great acidity. A light sweetness with great accompanying acidity makes them delightful gems. Just keep them in a very cold cellar.
German wines are lovely to drink and are not difficult to pair with food. Indeed because of the small content of residual sugar particularly at the Kabinett level they are almost the perfect accompaniment with so many of our spicy Asian cuisines. It has taken a long time for the local wine-consuming public to accept German wines but today names such as Weinguts Egon Muller-Scharzhof, Fritz Haag, and Joh Jos Prum among others are well-accepted.
Because we wanted a red to drink with the lobster it was necessary first to make sure of the way in which the lobster was prepared. The pan-fried lobster was wrapped with Iberico ham, topped with seared Kampachi and fresh uni. Lafon's red wines may not be as well-known as his Meursaults, which is just as well because otherwise they would be far more scarce and far more expensive as productions are small. They do take a long time to mature though, and this Volnay Premier Cru Champans at 10 years of age was still very young. A deep ruby-red, with a great ripe red-berry aroma, it was still quite broad and thick, clearly still too young. Will need another five years at least. An older Volnay would have been better. Or a Chambolle-Musigny.
Pigeon is red meat, so a red with it was just fine. Chateau Ausone began its renaissance in 1995 when Alain Vauthier gained complete control of the estate. Under him the Chateau began its ascent back to the top rank of not only St-Emilion but all of Bordeaux and its "en primeur" since 1999 has often been acclaimed the wine of the vintage. This 1996 had not quite got there yet, nonetheless was very impressive. Still clearly quite young, and backward, it was very dense, very intense, still quite backward. The potential was clearly apparent. Will need another five years!
Finally, the piece de resistance of the evening - Egon Mueller's Eiswein1993. Egon Muller-Scharzhof does not often make ice wines. The conditions have to be just right - and usually it does not happen until after Christmas, often in January when ground temperature falls to minus 10 deg C. As Egon put it to me some years ago, it is not really a profit-making enterprise, but a great status-enabler to have an Eiswein in your stable of wines.
This Eiswein was just glorious. A medium-gold colour, with such a seductive aroma - botrytis-enriched, honeyed, over-ripe citrus fruits - liquorous and thick, just like nectar on the palate, long and lingering, its very fine exquisitely smooth acidity hauntingly in one's memory palate. This was the main dessert. The fruit were simply dispensable accompaniments. Sadly there was not enough of the Eiswein.
A final parting-shot: Drink the wines you like with the food that you like. (Hugh Johnson)
Post-script: I have not been able to find on the Internet any 1993 Egon Muller-Scharzhof Eiswein offered nor any tasting note. This bottle of Eiswein came as a Christmas gift from Egon in 1999. Thank you Egon.