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Classic Food and Wine Pairings:
Sauvignon Blanc + Goat Cheese
For years, I have been aware of several classic food and wine parings and have used them to my advantage on many occasions ("we have to open this syrah — we're eating lamb!"). I have also had some terrific experiences with amazing food and wine pairings in the past. This is something that restaurants can do very well, but at home, most great pairings were almost accidental — the result of a very successful guess or stroke of luck as opposed to premeditation and comprehensive knowledge. So I set out to my favorite wine shop to talk shop (well, wine) with the experts.
We quickly settled on a concise list of the most classic pairings, then picked a few to start with. The conversation ultimately turned to how wine on the dinner table evolved. As with most great foodstuffs, wine became ubiquitous at the dinner table because it wouldn't kill you — and drinking water would. So when the family sat down at the table for a meal, wine was the main beverage — even for the kids. I find it particularly satisfying that wine evolved for the same reasons that cured, pickled, dehydrated, and smoked foods evolved: they all came about as natural preservation techniques used to keep us from poisoning ourselves with rotten food.
That is the way it was in the "Old World." Nowadays, we consider the traditional European wine making styles to be "Old World," as we, the former territories of Old World imperial powers, forge our own New World identity. Here, our wine traditions began following the European model but have changed as they have matured. Now as the "global village" allows for Old and New World wines to sit side by side on the shelf, it makes sense to look at their stylistic contrasts as they pertain to classic food and wine pairings.
Back to the task at hand: exploring the classic pairing of Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese. This makes the list of best all-time classic pairings because when you eat the creamy, tart cheese and take a citric, grassy sip, you are immediately aware that the result is greater than the sum of its parts. The tartness of each match very well, and the acidity of the wine cuts the richness of the cheese for an amazing mouth feel, which is at once smooth and sharp.
We chose two bottles of Sauvignon Blanc. First was an "Old World" style: Guy Saget Pouilly Fume, 2007, Les Logeres (importer: The Country Vintner); next was a "New World" style: Hunter's Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough-Wairau (importer: Austrailian Wine Collection). So we set out to enjoy the pairing and decide which worked better with the meal. It was OLD vs. NEW.
In terms of food, I really wanted to load the dish with goat cheese, but not just as a pile of crumbled cheese on top — I needed layers of flavor. So I looked around to see what I had on hand: some left over salmon and poblano peppers caught my eye. Then I saw the grapefruit — I thought this would be the perfect addition to the dish since grapefruit is one of the most common flavors that come through in a Sauvignon Blanc. Now I needed one more element - the starch: potatoes, rice, some kind of grain — I settled on stone ground grits, thinking they would be nice and creamy with some goat cheese stirred in. So there it was — it all came together — a goat cheese extravaganza: poblano peppers stuffed with a salmon and goat cheese mousseline, served over goat-cheesy grits, a grapefruit juice and white wine reduction sauce finished with a little butter and salt, and a fresh salad of red onions, grapefruit, cilantro and of course, goat cheese! (see recipe and photo). My friends popped the bottles and I got started on the dinner.
Cooking and drinking wine is always great fun, but having a "taste talk" makes it even more so. We all sipped and took ntes. First was the Hunter's. We were all very pleased with it — everyone agreed on the strong notes of citrus (grapefruit in particular), and some detected green apple. We all thought it was very fresh, assertive and fun to drink. The average score was 8.5 (out of 10). Next was the Pouilly Fume. Someone said, "Stinky cheese!" Another said, "It's not grassy, it's more like hay!" (I think she was implying a "barnyard flavor"). Everyone thought it was a little bitter, like the fruit just wasn't there, but it still managed a 4.75 average score. A clear win for the New World.
Next was the meal. The salmon mousseline was very cool and the goat cheese gave it a nice accent. The grits still had some of their "grit," providing a nice textural contrast to the mousseline, which was very smooth and creamy. The sauce had an intense flavor, rich and acidic, and we especially enjoyed the sourness of the reduced grapefruit juice. Finally, the little salad tasted so fresh with the cilantro, grapefruit and red onion — it also provided a colorful accent on the plate.