Can you tell us what denotes a fantastic wine pairing?
Most of the time, food and wine together do not result in a ‘fantastic’ wine pairing. Almost always, I settle for ‘good’ — food and wine that go together smoothly, without one of the elements having a negative impact on the other. Occasionally, however, ‘fantastic’ does strike. To me, it is the moment when a ‘third flavor’ magically occurs. Put together a glass of Port with a hard cow’s milk cheese — and, if you’re lucky, the vivid flavor of butterscotch will appear before your very palate.
What elements should people look for to make their dishes sing? (Not just today, but any day!)
For me, the real magic is not in the moments of high and complicated creativity we see in so many restaurants today. That’s good news, for it means that ‘singing’ dishes can be created in home kitchens. The answer is simple: look for the greatest ingredients available and cook them in ways that allow the true flavors to come through. I, for example, do not grill asparagus because I think the charred flavor hides the natural green flavor. But find some local, just-picked asparagus, boil it just to the point of tenderness in salted water, throw a knob of great butter on top of the cooked asparagus… what can sing more beautifully than that?
When people think of Irish food and celebrations, they tend to think of one beverage to wash everything down: beer. What does the perfect wine (when matched right) have to offer a traditional Irish dish that beer doesn’t?
I love beer, and enjoy it often with food — and with the diversity of beers on the market today, you can make a beer and food pairing that’s sophisticated. But, truth be told, beer (especially on a holiday!) is usually used as a cold refreshment for food. Wine is not usually used that way, especially red wine; with wine, one tends to look for subtler aspects of the beverage and food pairing.
Can you tell us a little bit about Irish wines? What are your favorites?
There is a minuscule production of wine in Ireland, and most of it in County Cork. I’ve never seen an Irish wine in the U.S.
What rule of thumb would you give people looking to drink wine with their meals on St. Paddy’s Day?
This goes back to the first question: don’t look for ‘fantastic!’ Treat wine as the Europeans do — on the table you’ve got your bread, your butter, your vegetables, your fish, your meat, and your wine to drink with it all. Treat it as a staple, not something you must get down on your knees and pray to!
What wine would you pair with the St. Paddy’s Day staple, corned beef and cabbage?
No doubt in my mind — the world’s most food-flexible wine, dry and off-dry Riesling from Germany. Corned beef is on the salty side, and low-alcohol wines (like German Riesling) go well with salty foods. In addition, the great acid of German Rieslings cuts through the fattiness of corned beef. I like to direct people to Toni Jost, a producer that currently has almost 38 acres dedicated to sustainably grown Riesling. The family has been growing vines in the Bacharach area of the Mittelrhein for over 180 years, and several of their offerings would be well suited to go alongside your corned beef and cabbage.
What about an Irish cheese board?
An Irish cheese widely available in the U.S. is Irish cheddar, which is rich and firm with ‘fruity’ notes. I like to eat it with hearty, fruity, ripe reds such as the 2012 Opi d’Aqui Les Fainéants, Mourvedre, from Languedoc (which will set you back less than 20 bucks).
What is your personal favorite Irish cuisine and wine combination? Describe it to us!
I created a dish based on some Irish elements — a delicious combination of Irish smoked salmon slices and potatoes in a mustardy vinaigrette. It’s a wonderful party-starter, particularly with a glass of Champagne! Irish smoked salmon is often a little smokier and saltier than other luxury European salmons, and low-alcohol Champagne, with its scraping bubbles, is always an antidote to foods with salt. The vinaigrette also brings a little acid to the party, which is best complemented by the acid in the wine. A great bubbly for this dish is the 2004 Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Prestige, Grand Cru, from Michel Gonet.
For further wine recommendations, check out Golden Ram Imports for a list of wines with David’s stamp of approval!.