Food and Wine Pairing – an Experiment with Grilled Steak with White Truffle Butter and Chanterelle- Gruyere Bread Pudding

7 Nov

Chanterell Gruyere Bread Pudding

          I’m not completely sure which came first, the chicken or the egg, or more precisely my love of chicken or my love of chardonnay (and sangiovese and cabernet and pinot, et. al.)  Actually, I was born and raised in Houston, Texas and spent many of my childhood weekends in a dry county – remnants of Prohibition are alive and well in Texas, so I guess I have to admit I loved the chicken first.

            Still, while I love both good food and good wine, there is something truly magical about the way certain wines interact with, complement and even enhance certain foods, and vice versa.  So when week 2 of my ISG sommelier course introduced the concept of food and wine pairing, my heart almost skipped a beat.  As I read our materials, I found both affirmation of personal experience and much new “food” for thought:

  • Both contrasts and similarities in the relative strength of the 4 basic tastes [sweetness, acidity (sourness), bitterness (tannin) and saltiness] should be considered when pairing food with wine.
  • The relative complexities of the food and wine should complement rather than detract from one another.

            A few nights ago, I decided to experiment and apply some of my increased understanding of food/wine pairing.  I grilled some steaks and served them with white truffle butter, a chanterelle and gruyere bread pudding[i] and roasted asparagus.  When I started thinking about the wine that I would serve, I thought about the both the bitterness and the fat of the char grilled steak and decided I wanted something with some strong tannins to balance the bitterness.  When I thought of the earthy elements of the truffles and the chanterelle mushrooms, I wanted something that would reflect that earthiness, so I decided to try something that had been in the bottle for a while.  When I thought about the other side of those flavors, their complexity, I wanted a wine with some subtlety and finesse that wouldn’t compete with those flavors.

            We have been collecting wine, a lot of wine, for a very long time.  I’m ashamed to admit that we haven’t been the best stewards…..We use good cellaring technique, but we’re lax about both our record keeping and our research.  Also we have a frugal bent and tend to save those “special” bottles for “special” occasions.  To complicate the issue, it’s a sad but true fact that we have far more “special” bottles than we could drink, even if every day was special.  I am working on changing both my habits and my mindset.  I need to know what we have, keep a journal of what we drink and when, along with my impressions, and research what both experts and other consumers recommend about how to best enjoy what we have.  I also need to be willing to sell what we will not or cannot drink.  The bottom line, as it relates to this story, is that I was willing to dive into the cellar, but I needed to start slow and ease myself into my new mindset about wine consumption.[ii]

1995 Stag's Leap Fay Vineyard

         So……I chose a 1995 Stag’s Leap Fay Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon.  I thought the well aged California Cabernet would complement both the grilled meat and the complex flavors of the truffles and chanterelles well.  It was special, but not as special as some of the Bordeaux and Barolo that I was first drawn to but couldn’t bring myself to open on a random Friday night in my jeans and t-shirt. (I know….I have to work on that).  When I opened the bottle, I found the wine as I would expect, not the vibrant deep purple of youth, but lighter, more garnet, with brownish hues.  The bouquet was lovely, if not intense, of dried fruit and subtle spice.

            On the palate, with the food, it was disappointing.  It wasn’t bad, but nor was it remarkable – and with all my effort I had high expectations.  I love Stag’s Leap’s wines, and collect them actively, but this particular one, at this particular time failed to impress with the food.  I actually enjoyed the wine much more as I sipped it slowly on its own after dinner than I did with the meal. I’m not sure exactly what went wrong.  I researched the bottle and discovered that while it was originally an 89 point wine, that we actually drank it 2 years past the outside of Wine Spectator’s published prime.  But I think it was more than that.  Somehow, I just don’t think it worked perfectly with the truffles.  I think that’s why I enjoyed it more after we finished our meal.  I did some research on truffle pairing, specifically, and old Burgundy and old Barolo seem to be the dominant suggestions.  As I think about it, truffles are pungent and their flavor is a dominant characteristic when they’re used in cooking.  I think that I would have been more successful in my pairing effort if I had focused on the truffle in a more specific way than merely seeking “earthiness” in age.  One of the Barolos that I passed because I wouldn’t open it on a random night might have been just perfect.

            Now I just wish that I had become more focused in my learning sooner.  It’s disheartening to realize that in the hectic pace of life that time slipped away and we missed the chance to try this lovingly cellared wine at its peak.  I’m also sad that it was not paired to its best advantage.  But as always, my wine glass is half full, not half empty.  Lesson learned, my eyes are open and I’m committed to both learning more and to becoming far more intentional about managing our cellar.  And I’m giddy about the food and experiences that lay ahead.

[ii] With this thought in mind, I’ve hired my son over the Christmas break to input our collection on  I think it will be an easy and very successful way to be a more informed, satisfied and responsible collector.


One Response to “Food and Wine Pairing – an Experiment with Grilled Steak with White Truffle Butter and Chanterelle- Gruyere Bread Pudding”

  1. Ed M. November 8, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Two footnotes in one post? Your high school English teacher would be proud. If you use an ibid. or an op. cit. in a future article however . . . . . you’ve gone too far!

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