A Sunday Lunch Lesson in Food Pairing

Nothing feels quite so decadent as a long lazy Sunday lunch.  And if it’s really good, you don’t need to worry about dinner, as you will still be deep in conversation with your friends and grazing the cheese board till late into the evening.

Rosy-peachy Vinho Espumante Bruto Tinto Casa Reguengo

Rosy-peachy Vinho Espumante Bruto Tinto Casa Reguengo

I am visiting snowy London, staying with my friend Nicola Thomson  and her partner Drew.  Robert Giorgione, another wine writer friend,  joined us for the six or seven hour long repast.  We started with a toast to the new year and the coming meal with a lovely Portuguese champagne-method sparkling wine, a dry pink non-vintage, made by Casa Senhorial do Reguengo, near Braga in the Minho region, though it is not a DOC or even regional wine.  The wine was a lovely peachy-pink colour with a fine even fizz and delightful nose and palate of red summer fruits (strawberry, currant, raspberry), rather delicate and elegant.  We thoroughly enjoyed it, and it was a surprise to find it is made of primarily Vinhão – a grape which is associated with the highly acidic red Vinho Verde wines – and a little Syrah.

Drew was chef du jour, and we were happy with an hors d’oeuvre of sliced hot pork sausages, pickled shallots and a home-blend honey and mustard sauce till he was ready to serve forth the “proper” starter:  a generous slice of grilled ciabatta bread coverered two-thirds with a hot mixture of sautéed mushrooms and one third with a cold tomato concassé.   We finished the sparkling wine and switched to a lovely Mosel Riesling, Bernkasteler Badstube Riesling Kabinett 2010, Weingut WWE Dr. H Thanisch which had a palate of tropical fruit and a nice acidity which cut through the richness of the pork sausages from Boston Sausage, and made a very effective contrast.

There followed a perfectly cooked massive leg of lamb, with which we finished two different bottles of claret:  the first a Margaux, Chevalier de Lascombes, 2005, which had been decanted a couple hours previously, the second a 2005 Saint-Émilion made for Fortnum & Mason by Château Dessault.  Both were drinking beautifully now and were perfect with the lamb, of course – Bordeaux and roast lamb are a classic pairing.

The Tokaji Aszu had the most gorgeous intense lemony honey colour, very inviting

The Tokaji Aszu had the most gorgeous intense  honey colour, very inviting

The intention was to go on to the cheese board, but somewhere along the line discussion got onto the subject of artisanal chocolates  (in fact most of our conversation turned on wine and food!) which prompted Drew to share a box of Damian Allsop chocolates, and open a bottle of Tokaji Aszú 2003, also from Fortnum & Mason, this made by Chateau Megyer.  Although 5 puttonyos, this was quite light on the palate and had a quite fresh flavour profile of lime and grapefruit.  This, with the Allsop water ganache truffles was absolutely divine.  Damian’s trademark is a ganache filling which is made with water, rather than the usual cream and butter.  Though the chocolate was rich and deeply, intensely chocolatey, the unbelievably light texture worked to make this pair beautifully with the elegant Tokaji.  Having said the pairing with the ganache was divine leaves me without an adequate adjective to describe how it paired with the salt caramel truffle.  Really really well!  The caramel had a soft whipped consistency and the salt was under control, so the weight and flavour-strength of the confectionary balanced nicely with the Tokaji.

Then on to the cheese board.  Seven cheeses and three bottles of wine – sounds about right, doesn’t it?  We had fun trying and comparing all the possible combinations of cheeses (with or without a slice of marmelada, quince paste) with each of the wines.  Here’s the list:

  • Madeira Barbeito Malvasia 2000 Colheita, single cask 44a – flavour of orange blossom honey, quite vivid but neither flavour nor texture of the wine was heavy or cloying, absolutely delightful
  • Quevedo 40 Years Old Tawny Port – so rich and complex it defies description (like all really good Port, I think!)  I first had this in Oscar’s tasting room last September, whilst clutching an ice pack to a severely sprained knee incurred in the Douro seven hours previously.   The knee soon ceased to bother me.  It tasted wonderful on a warm evening in Vila Nova de Gaia, and tasted wonderful again in cold snowy London last night.
  • Chateau Raymond-Lafon Sauternes 2007 Famille Meslier – another wine with a wonderful light texture despite its sweetness, with distinctive minerality and pineapple notes
  • Drunken cheese with barolo
  • Drunken cheese with prosecco
  • Drunken cheese with vernaccia
  • Stilton
  • Caerphilly
  • Serra de Estrela São Gião (a Portuguese sheep’s milk cheese, strong flavoured and very creamy buttery textured)
  • Comté
  • Marmelada (quince paste)

All the cheeses were excellent and like much of the food that night, came from Borough Market near London Bridge.  The Comté or the drunken cheese made with Prosecco would be my picks if I were just making a meal of cheese and biscuits with fruit (which yes, I do occasionally, paired with a really good story, preferably one of John Buchan’s thriller/adventure novels).   Stilton really is THE cheese for wine, par excellence, for me, I find it too pungent and salty to make a meal on its own with just water and fruit, it needs a wine of strong character to balance it.

The Quevedo 40 Year Old Tawny has the most beautiful rich colour and flavour imagineable

The Quevedo 40 Year Old Tawny Port has the most beautiful rich colour and flavour imagineable

Our cheese and wine pairing picks of the night:

  • Nicola – Caerphilly with marmelada and celery with the Madeira
  • Drew – Stilton on a biscuit with the Madeira
  • Cynthia – Stilton on celery dipped in just a tiny bit of coarse salt with the Port
  • Robert – Serra de Estrela on a biscuit with the Madeira

We all liked the caerphilly/marmelada combination with both wines, the balance was right in both cases, with the wines showing splendidly against the food.  When Drew recommended trying the Stilton spread on celery and dipped in Maldon sea salt, we found that this particular food combination really changed the character of the Madeira on our palates – we think it was the added salt that did the trick.  It was not unpleasant, by any means, but just brought out a different balance in the flavours of the Madeira, from how it came across when paired with the milder, less salty cheeses.  The Quevedo 40 Year Old Tawny on the other held its own and balanced beautifully with the strong flavour combination.

The meal really was a lesson in food pairing – how successful pairings can be driven by either contrast or matching, as long as the relative strength of flavour and weight-in-the-mouth of food and wine are balanced.  Fantastic examples from this meal:

  • The contrast of the sweet fruity Riesling versus the rich savoury pork sausages
  • The matching of the sweet, delicate Tokaji with the water ganache chocolates – a traditional thick creamy filled chocolate would have suffocated the Tokaji
  • The classic matching of the savoury roasted lamb with the Bordeaux – depth and complexity of flavour well balanced

What have been your most memorable food and wine pairings? I would love to hear your stories and suggestions.

Sunday lunch wine line up

We had a good lunch…

7 thoughts on “A Sunday Lunch Lesson in Food Pairing

  1. Glad you’re back at blogging here. I’m afraid I’m less of a wine connesieour (spelling?) . I wrote up my piece here of our winery adventures on bike over the years: However I do like more flavourful, stronger cheeses than typical Cheddar cheese with wine.

    And Happy New Year!

    • Hi Jean! I agree with you, cheddar is generally the least interesting pairing with wine, unless you can find good aged, artesenal Cheddar. If your adventures ever take you to London, Borough Market is a gold mine for cheeses of character! Best wishes for the new year to you too!

  2. What a great day! Your descriptions made me feel like I was there with you.

    I have fond memories of Borough Market. One afternoon, I went from stand to stand, buying and eating a multi-course lunch: chorizo/arugula sandwiches, pork pies, pistacchio Turkish delight. Um num num.

    • Hi Margaret, Yes I can imagine you would love the Market. On the Saturday it was bucketing rain but we stopped for something to eat from Boston Sausages – hot sausages with good onion marmalade on a warm bun, which we ate standing up huddled under the awning alongside the grill… they weren’t bad either!! I do love good food, under any circumstances!

  3. Cynthia, this post is wonderful. And painful for someone who’s working on a grant application and is feeding herself unspecified finger food next to the keyboard, or halfthawed leftovers right out of the plastic container…

    I would love to learn and practice more on food-wine combinations. I’m not too thrilled with the more conventional approach to wine-tasting – I love to taste and enjoy the wine rather than thinking about it.

    My greatest wine experiences are rather wine-circumstance pairings:
    1) A Burmester 20-year old on Christmas Day after having arrived safely through a drive in snow and flurry (Sweden, about 10 years ago).
    2) A splurge of trying different Austrian wines on Sunday morning in the airport in Vienna. I was returning from a conference and was initially rather grumpy as i hate spending a good part of a precious Sunday in airports. But somehow the lady in the shop viewed me as someone worth spending time and wine on. Good Austrian white wine is lovely. And it was a lovely way of starting a Sunday as it doesn’t take much wine in the morning to enter into a blessed stage…. And I bought several bottles, and have done so each time I’ve passed through Vienna airport, so the lady made a wise investment in me.

    Cheddar. You guys need some SWEDISH cheddar! This is one of the best in the mainstream of Swedish cheese. What if I bring some next time I go, and then we set out on a hunt for the right wine to have with it?

  4. Oh, and a third experience: Returning from Sweden after spending half a year Canada. First dinner at my parent’s place and I was gasping “Where did you buy this wine, it is heavenly?”. It was the plain, about 6 euro red wine that she would normally buy, most possibly Periquita which is the most reliable reasonable Portuguese wine you can buy in Sweden. It was just so much more to my liking than the Canadian wines I’ve had, however many medals they have wone in whatever competition. Maybe I was just unlucky or hanging out too much with students….

    • Hello annannan! Absolutely, next time you visit Sweden, bring back some cheese and let me know, I will line up some wines to try with it!

      And I feel your pain right now… I have been sick and not eating at all for about 5 days, I had to scroll past the photos very quickly. Good luck with grant applications, we will celebrate when they are over, and again when you get your grant!

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