The Ultimate Meal Designed Around Wine

Spring is on the minds of many chefs, but don't expect to find asparagus or artichokes on the menu at Alain Ducasse's new restaurant Adour in New York City.

"They've been banned from the ingredient list," says Tony Esnault, the Ducasse protégé running the kitchen.

Their crime?

"They are just not easy to pair with great wines," he says.

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He should know. That's because Adour, located in the St. Regis Hotel, is all about the pairing. Each dish on the menu was conceived with a particular wine in mind; each wine defines the dish, and vice versa.

Wine director Thomas Combescot and Esnault worked side by side to draft the menu -- a grueling process where every ingredient was dissected for its wine-pairing qualities.

In the lamb entrée for example, they came to the conclusion that accent shavings of preserved lemon were cut too large, detracting from the Domaine Templier red Bandol on the palate.

Esnault says the pairing he's most pleased with involves the sautéed sweetbread appetizer. The delicate sweetbreads are sautéed in a Meuniere sauce and topped with a golden, molten poached egg with toasted brioche and wild mushrooms. They're paired with a 2005 Rosemary's Vineyard Chardonnay from Talley Vineyards in California, a wine whose "buttery nature really lifts the unctuous yellow of the egg."

Now that we've become a nation of know-it-all foodies, food and wine pairings like these have become the next culinary obsession.

"Food and wine pairing has finally hit the tipping point, in that it is now expected at fine-dining restaurants, and increasingly at any self-respecting restaurant," says Karen Page, author (with Andrew Dornenburg) of What To Drink with What You Eat. Even places like the Olive Garden are getting into the food and wine pairing act, she says.

The trend is only going to intensify as more and more chefs are educating themselves about wine, Page adds. Indeed, more chefs than ever before are enrolling in the nation's leading wine programs.

Pairing 101

Paul Grieco, the maverick wine director at Hearth and Insieme restaurants in New York City, says there is a science to pairing, but it's not very complicated. There are four basic components of taste: sweet, sour, salt and bitter. The trick is to find one component in the dish and then either find a wine that contrasts or emulates it.

"Most everything we learned about pairing food and wine started with mom's traditional glass of milk and cookies," he says. "The sweetness of the milk helped cut the bitterness of the chocolate." As adults, we continued pairing subconsciously "by hanging out and drinking beer with pretzels," contrasting the salt of the pretzels with the acidity of the beer.

Of Esnault's sweetbreads, for example, wine director Combescot says not only do the dish and wine share notes of toasted bread, caramel and white peppers, but they also share a yellow-orange color with shades of brown--a common sommelier's trick in pairing.

Best Blends

We asked several chefs across the country to share some recent food and wine pairings of note.

Jody Adams, of Rialto Restaurant and Bar in Boston, credits her wine director, Kelly Coggins, for convincing her to try a sparkling shiraz with her big, saucy short ribs served with Gorgonzola croquettes.

"It was amazing," says Adams, who notes that everyone working in the kitchen was dazzled by the duo.

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