John JuergensHair of the Dog Tasting

Our local Humane Society recently conducted a fund-raising event in the form of a wine tasting. This time the focus was not so much on the individual wines, but on how food flavors can be enhanced when paired up with the proper wine.

Of course, this effect can work in the other direction as well, with the food accentuating certain characteristics of the wine.

Locally, some of us have come to refer to these Humane Society events as "Dog Tastings" as a kind of affectionate shorthand because it's a whole lot easier to say, for example, than, "Did you make it to the last Oxford-Lafayette County Humane Society wine and food fundraiser?" "Oh, you mean the dog tasting? Yeah, the food and wine matches were great."

The following is an overview of some of the highlights of the evening. One of the good things about this tasting is that all of the wines served are widely available in most markets.

The main food dishes were divided up by category; for example, seafoods, roast pork, spicy meats, Asian, and desserts, and the wines were distributed among these dishes. There also was a large table full of finger foods consisting of chips, cheeses, crackers, dips, etc. The wines were poured by local wine club members, who also provided information on the wines and help guide the palates.

Starting with the seafood table, the main attraction was the mini crab cakes, which we matched with three white wines: Bridgeview Riesling from Oregon, B&G Sauvignon Blanc from France, and St. Supery Sauvignon Blanc from California.

These wines were very different, but each complemented the crab cakes in a unique way. The Riesling had a touch of sweetness that matched up with the natural sweetness of the crabmeat, and the California Sauvignon Blanc with its big fruit flavors performed similarly. The French Sauvignon Blanc was bone dry with a hint of flintiness that brought out other flavors in the crab.

There also was a divine shrimp dip and robust veggie pizza bits that burst with flavor when combined with any of these white wines.

Moving over to the table with the roast pork loin, we served three red wines: an Indigo Hills Pinot Noir (California), a St. Emilion Bordeaux (France), and an Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon (California). Pinot Noir and pork is a classic combination, but the other reds also worked well with the meat. Cabernet Sauvignon and blue cheese is another classic combination so we had a nice big chunk of that on the table as well.

Slipping around the corner and out into the hall was another meaty table on which we presented a Tex-Mex casserole supplemented with salsa and sour cream, and a mildly spiced Swedish meatball dish. We selected two powerful red wines to saddle up with these aggressively flavored broncos, a Karly Pokerville Zinfandel and the huge, inky Guenoc Petite Sirah, both from California. We also tossed in a French Rhone wine for its spiciness, Perrin Reserve, which is made largely from Syrah grapes. This was the most delicate of the three wines and it pretty much got trampled by the Tex-Mex dish, but did okay with the meatballs.

In the next room we served an Asian dish that consisted mainly of chicken, water chestnuts, and pineapple, with a sweet and sour sauce. We poured a Fetzer Vineyards Gewurztraminer from California and a German "Guntrum Scheurebe," with this dish. The inherent spiciness of both of these wines, along with their touch of sweetness really pulled out some wonderful flavors from the pineapple and seasonings that permeated the dish.

The other very unusual dish on this table was something called a Mexican Cheesecake. It had the appearance of a deep dish pizza, but inside was an incredible cheesecake filling that had small bits of mild peppers, sweet onions, and other goodies mixed in. By itself it was a delight, but when paired with Toasted Head Chardonnay and Bolla Pinot Grigio it became one of those dishes that you are tempted to pull up a chair and make a meal out of.

Last, but by no means least, was the decadent dessert table, which was laden with almond meringue cookies, petit fours, and chocolate so intense it took your breadth away. I took care of this table most of the evening (hey, somebody had to the dirty work), and it was an absolute delight to watch the bright light of discovery illuminate the faces of so many people who had not been exposed to the wonders of dessert wines.

We served a Chandon Brut sparkling wine from the California branch of the famous French Champagne house of Moet & Chandon; there was the consistently elegant B&G Vouvray, which is made in France's Loire Valley from Chenin Blanc grapes; a modest red port from Portugal, Graham's Six Grape; and an intensely rich Elderton Golden Semillon from Australia.

The sparkling wine married very well with the light, delicate texture and flavors of the almond meringue cookies, and the Vouvray and the Golden Semillion were a hit with the petit fours. However, the Godzilla of dessert combinations was the chocolate and the port. For those who tried this for the first time that evening, the uniform expression of the flavor explosion they experienced was "WOW!!," followed shortly with, after they caught their breadth, "Oh, my God!" Of course, when I tried the combination I used much more professional wine taster's terminology, i.e. "Damn, that's good!" When you get reactions such as this from the pairing of wine and food, that's what I call a truly Platonic experience.

The tasting was a big success. I hope you will try some of these wine and food combinations, particularly the chocolate and port. You are in for some real treats.

July 20, 2000

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