By The Glass
Correct pairing puts sommelier on right track
Pairing food and wine can be as daunting as navigating morning traffic on the H-1. When deciding to change lanes while driving, many variables are at play, including speed, distance, road and weather conditions. Likewise, when selecting a wine for a dish, elements such as flavor, texture, balance and intensity must be considered.
If you get caught up in how pretty a wine looks in the glass, you may end up like the gal putting on mascara or the fellah eating a loco moco in the car next to you, now connected to the rear of that tour bus. Yup, a partial wreck.
While pondering four wine selections for a nine-course degustation menu -- offered at Halekulani's La Mer through the month -- like a lemming I followed all the other cars heading into town.
The first two courses, a terrine of lobster and a savory rendition of seared foie gras, were like road crews coning off my lane. My first reaction was to pair them with a classic French chablis. It fit the terrine, but was destined to fail with the foie gras. Sauternes and other sweet wines would go great with the foie gras, but were too much for the terrine. A setback and we weren't even on the highway yet.
Arriving at the third and fourth courses, steamed veal cheeks and a Chilean sea bass with morel mushrooms. The veal has a vinaigrette with capers, herbs, egg whites and yolks, while the sea bass is paired with a delicate nage, marrying flavors of earth and sea. A meursault or pouilly fume would work with the veal, but the sea bass required more subtlety. A sylvanner or pinot blanc seemed to do the trick and we were off and running again.
The fifth course of scallop and scampi risotto with lobster coulis paired with meursault was a welcomed stretch of open road. For the Angus beef entrée and cheese courses, a meritage or bordeaux would be ideal.
at this point I realized these pairings were boring. There was no sense of adventure, like taking the back roads of Makiki to outwit the contra-flow lanes.
Recalling a recent tasting of small, domaine-grower champagnes, it dawned on me -- bubbles! They held all the elements, plus a delicate effervescence perfect for the menu. A new route began.
A rosé champagne would be ideal with the lobster terrine and the perfect foil to the cloying weight and richness of the foie gras. The Lanson Brut Rosé NV ($78) had the ideal balance with pretty berry notes for the starter courses. The on-ramp was clear!
A Pierre Peters Reserve Brut NV ($50) -- rich, golden apple, toast, doughy aromas and fine effervescence -- is the ideal complement to the veal cheek. Although seemingly too bright for the sea bass, the brut's richness settles and nicely balances the earth tones of the morel-infused broth.
The Pierre Gimonnet Blanc de Blancs 2002 ($48) is rich, bracing, snappy, and a near flawless pairing for the risotto finished with Remy Martin Cognac.
I found my carpool lane in a Paringa Sparkling Shiraz 2004 ($15). The juicy berry notes and soft tannins complemented the beef's bordelaise sauce. The real key was in how the effervescence cleared away the weight and allowed the chanterelles and butternut squash to chime in. The shiraz was equally stimulating with the robust cheese selections.
With the end in sight, there was no need for a fancy GPS devices to spout out "You have reached your destination."
Kevin Toyama is a sommelier at the Halekulani and an advanced certificate holder from the Court of Master Sommeliers.
This column is a weekly lesson in wine pairing written by a rotating panel of wine professionals. Write to firstname.lastname@example.org