Wine 8

Wine Pairings Gone Awry

anewton | Feb 3, 200804:07 PM

Being a fledgling oenophile can be a humbling experience, as I was reminded last night while dining at one of Vancouver's finest restaurants, West.

I made a poor wine choice, and was not helped by the server, but perhaps should have specifically requested to speak to the sommelier. The server made some recommendations and seemed confident enough, but I am not certain if he was effecting the stance of a wine expert without having the knowledge to back up that stance.

My wife and I were dining with a friend who is not at all interested in wine and who could have cared less whether we ordered Yellow Tail or a DRC wine. So we did not wish to spend vast sums on wine. Our meals were quite varied, so I wished to order a varietal that would complement a range of flavours.

The first wine I ordered, 1/2 litre of Feudi de San Gregorio Falanghina, was pleasant enough if inconsequential, and paired reasonably well with the celery root soup amuse bouche, the very fine fresh breads with some quality olive oil, and our initial courses (I had winter leek and potato ravioli with Italian black truffles and shaved Parm-Reg, which both my wife and I thought was the best course of the evening; my wife had a "lobster club" with a lobster bisque).

For our entrees, my wife and I both ordered saddle of rabbit wrapped in proscuitto, served with gnocchi and baby carrots. Our friend had a tasting menu with varied courses (a prawn risotto, a smoked sablefish dish, etc...) Our friend wanted only a sip of the second wine.

I figured that the rabbit would pair well with a pinot noir, and so I asked our server for recommendations. He initially recommended only New World pinots, and I asked about Burgundy, as I am trying to improve my knowledge of this region's wines. The server suggested several but seemed particularly enthused about the Joseph Drouhin Gevrey-Chambertin 2004, which he described as "unusually rich for a Burgundy." Not knowing anything about the wine (other than an appreciation of Drouhin wines from the family estate in Oregon), I ordered a bottle.

The pairing was awful. The wine itself, to my new world palette, seemed short on fruit and quite vegetal. I tasted a distinct asparagus note in the wine, not anything I had tasted in a red wine before and not a taste that I look forward to encountering again. The sauce upon which the rabbit was sitting was sweet, which completely numbed my palette to the subtleties of the wine. Further complicating matters was the salty and slightly gamey prosciutto, which also muted any admirable qualities in the wine. We drank the whole bottle, but not with any sense of fulfillment (more out of a sense of obligation). I could have said something, but I was waiting for the wine to open up over the course of the 2 1/2 hour meal, which it never did. Even after we finished our entrees, and I had cleansed my palette with generous amounts of water, the wine still tasted herbaceous and unappealing.

At $110, the Drouhin was not an inexpensive proposition (remember, this is Canada, where French wines generally cost double what they would in the US, and this is also a very fancy restaurant, where markups are 250-300% over retail price). I shall hesitate before dipping my toes in the daunting waters of Burgundy again.

(As an aside, I remain utterly intimidated by the world of French wine, and in particular the world of red Burgundy. I do not like to spend more than $60 CAN on wines at the retail level or more than $100 at a restaurant for the most part, and I have not encountered any success with Burgundies in this price range.)

In retrospect, a new world wine would have paired much more favourably with the sweet and smoky rabbit dish. I am thinking a fruit forward Syrah would have been an infinitely wiser choice. Had only my own judgment, and that of my server, led me to a sounder decision.

As a footnote, the pairing of a Sauternes (don't remember which, but it was a 2001) with a trio of chocolate desserts was a much happier marriage and a decent way of salvaging the inept pairing that had preceded the dessert course.

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