On April 12th, Società Dante Alighieri of Miami will present what should be a stellar evening of wine and food pairing at Por Fin Restaurant in Coral Gables. Stellar, because unlike many wine dinners, Steve Stein, the wine director of the Dante, along with several willing volunteers (including this writer) gathered at Por Fin to taste the wines with the planned menu. It was a worthy exercise that resulted in a number of excellent combinations.
The wine chosen for the evening is made by Peter Figge, of Figge Cellars, in Monterey, California. Figge makes five wines: two Chardonnay, two Pinot Noir, and one Syrah. The Chardonnay is closer is style to Burgundy than California, while the other two varietals are more true to their terroir.
In my favorite pairing guide, What to Eat with What You Drink, the following are suggested pairings for these wines:
For Chardonnay, the suggestions cover a rather broad range – as do Chardonnays. Some of the suggestions include chicken in any form (baked, grilled, etc.), crab, white fish, lobster, salmon, scallops, shrimp, veal, and vegetables. Rich dishes, such as those with cream sauce, or buttery sauces, fare better with typical oaky California chards. Dishes that are more flavorful, especially grilled foods like salmon, scallops, and chicken, do better with a Burgundian style.
Pinot Noir is more appropriate for protein-based dishes, such as cheeses, beef, chicken, duck, mushroom dishes, pork, salmon, lamb, and tuna.
Syrah (one of my favorite wines) is a robust wine, and needs robust dishes, like barbecue, aged cheeses, grilled meats, mushrooms, sausages, and so on.
For the wine dinner menu, Chef Quant suggested the following:
- An appetizer course of Fried Quail Eggs with Serrano ham and Truffle Oil, to be paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano, and passed to diners as they arrive.
- A second course of Grilled Octopus atop Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree, paired with a Chardonnay
- The third course of Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with a Pinot Noir.
- A fourth course of Braised Short Ribs with Mahon Cheese Crust and Red Wine Sauce, paired with the Syrah.
- A dessert course of a simple tropical fruit sorbet.
We started by trying the wines. Figge’s Chardonnays come from two vineyards: one from the Peilo vineyard, the other from the La Reina vineyard. The Pelio shows pineapple, light mineral, a hint of petrol, some mango, and tropical fruits on the nose, and was citrusy, flinty, and bright on the palate. It had a medium-long finish that was juicy and pleasant. The La Reina had a nose of light talc, vanilla, flint, pineapple, with a light floral note; on the tongue, we found orange peel, grapefruit, flint, white peaches and pears in a medium-long finish. Both wines had a good balance with nice acidity. Of the two Chardonnays, our favorite was the Pelio. More and more, wines are being regarded for their “cocktail” potential as much as for their food pairing potential, and quite often, the decision as to which wine to use with food comes from the cocktail, not the pairing, perspective.
Then came our first course: the grilled octopus. We started with the Pelio; it did not work well with the octopus. The food took on a bitter, slightly metallic flavor that was not pleasant at all. It turned out that the La Reina didn’t work well, either, but it paired nicely with the rice/sofrito/pea puree. In fact, the green pea puree was very good on it’s own with the La Reina; with the dish, it acted as a catalyst, pulling the ingredients together and creating a great compliment for the wine. A suggestion was made to substitute a grilled scallop for the octopus. The chef complied, and a pairing was made. The result was that our favorite of the two wines – the Pelio – was great on its own, but did not work in the pairing. La Reina became our choice.
We next tried the two pinots, one from Paraiso vineyard, the other from the Pelio vineyard. The Paraiso showed cherry, smoke, a little earth, and some cardamom. On the palate, it gave cherries, tobacco, menthol, dark fruits, and some dried cherries. It had a medium finish, good acidity, and mild tannins. The Pelio was more towards the earthy side: smoke, forest floor, chocolate, and faintly herbal on the nose, with dried cherries, pepper, strawberries, and a hint of licorice in a medium-long finish.
Of the two we liked the Pelio best, and it turned out to pair best with the Salmon. The Paraiso went very well with the Potato Crisps, but the winner of the pairing was the Pelio. We expected there to be some clash with the olive drizzle, but that addition turned out to add a very nice note to the flavor profile of the pairing. Grilled salmon is a classic Pinot Noir pairing, and it certainly lived up to that billing in this combination.
Our final dish was the short ribs. Our task was slightly easier, given that there was only one Syrah, but we forged ahead: The Syrah is from the Sycamore Flat vineyard, and showed chocolate, dark berries, a hint of tobacco, and some slight herbal notes on the nose, with black raspberries, cherries, and plums on the palate. The body was light, with a good mouthfeel. Syrahs can have a fairly wide flavor profile, and an equally varied body. I felt that this body of this wine was on the lighter side.
The short ribs were delicious, but the initial presentation of a manchego cheese crust did not really compliment the wine; the suggestion was made to try a Cabrales blue cheese sauce, but that turned out to be a bit strong. The final combination that won us over was when the chef altered the sauce a bit, combining honey with the Cabrales; that toned down the sharpness of the cheese, and brought the dish into harmony with the wine.
It turned out that the fact that the Syrah had a ligher body fit in well with the fattiness of the short ribs, and the richness of the sauce. Blue cheese is one of the recommended pairings for Syrahs, and the combination of the honey and the cabrales (which tends to be a fairly strong blue) worked quite well.
The final menu became:
- Tataki de Atun: Seared tuna, charred scallion, romesco sauce, paired with a Prosecco Valdiviano
- Arroz Negro con Vieras: Squid ink, Arborio rice, sautéed squid, sofrito, and green pea puree served with a seared scallop, paired with 2009 La Reina Chardonnay
- Salmon con patatas, tomate y kalamata: Irish organic salmon, potato crisps, tomato confit, Kalamata olive drizzle and crispy leeks, paired with 2009 Pelio Vineyard Pinot Noir
- Costillas De Res: Por Fin’s famous short ribs served with carrot puree, sweet potato crisps, honey cabrales and red wine sauces, paired with 2006 Sycamore Flat Syrah
- Sorbet de Coco con Espuma de Maracuya: Coconut sorbet served with passion fruit foam and mint granita
The next step will be the dinner! On April 12th, at Por Fin in Coral Gables. If you’re in town and you’d like to render your own opinion about our pairing prowess, please contact the restaurant at 305.441.0107, and join us! Otherwise, check back here later that week for what our diners thought of our efforts.