Globe artichoke (Cynara scolyum) is often considered as a “wine killer”. This bad reputation comes from the mode of preparation rather than the ingredient itself.
Grilled artichokes - just like other grilled greens - will indeed add a bitter taste to most wines. It has to do with the green colour and bitter association, as well as interactions of charred flavour, oak and tannins.
Cooked and/or pickled artichokes are much more forgiving. The process of cooking results in roasted and caramelly aroma molecules and increasing umami taste.
The toasted, honey and paraffin notes in aged Rieslings come handy to match the sweet roasted aromas of cooked artichoke. The responsible aroma compound is 1,1,6-trimethyl-1,2-dihydronaphthalene (TDN in short), which funnily tastes like licorice on its own and is present in red currant as well. Add the subtle sweetness and citrusy floral character (terpenes) of German Riesling armed with mineral acidity that will resurrect even the most challenging foods.
Cooked artichokes with licorice and red currant sauce anyone?
Take-home recommendation: if you find yourself at a BBQ with grilled artichokes, keep your best bottle for another occasion.
Featured wine: 2007 J.J. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr Spatlese
The aromatic DNA of freshly shucked oysters is made up of herbaceous, fruity (apple, pear), floral, citrus and earthy scents. Such delicious complexity leaves a lot of room to experiment with wine styles beyond bubbles.
Young Hunter Valley Semillon, with its fine acidity, provides a refreshing contrast to the luscious textures of oysters. Historically, the grapes had to be harvested before the rainy season resulting in low alcohol wines with generous lemon/lime aromas (limonene molecule). The subtle grassy, herbaceous notes from the varietal methoxypyrazine molecules are surprisingly present in oysters as well. As you might imagine, the combination leans towards a zingy ceviche.
How about aged Semillon?
After 7-8 years bottle maturation the presence of furfural and benzyl alcohol molecules develop that charming toast, and orange marmalade aroma character in the wine. This “little” change will take the pairing to a savoury direction and highlight the meatiness of oysters.
Champagne is the pinnacle of bubbly wines that has a lot to offer beyond a simple aperitive, celebratory drink or a washing liquid for oysters and caviar.
Let’s suppose we’ll pan-fry a marbled beef sirloin (medium-rare) with fresh sides (e.g., asparagus, hollandaise).
What do we need in a “steak Champagne”?
Champagne is a cool climate region, producing wines with very high acidity. By default, most Champagne would go through (partial or complete) malolactic fermentation (MLF), transferring the sharp malic acid to a softer lactic acid. As a result, the mouthfeel becomes rounder, fuller and less austere. Partial or full MLF is desired for steak.
Besides MLF, the dosage (a mix of sugar and wine) helps balance the acidity, adds sweetness and richness to the Champagne. Brut level can have 0-12 g/L sugar. It’s worth aiming at the higher end and for a steak companion.
The bubbles are CO2 entrapped in the bottle during the secondary fermentation. CO2 is more soluble at low temperatures; hence Champagne is served chilled (~7C) for the finest effervescence. If we increase the serving temperature to ~12C, the coarser bubbles will act like tannins in red wines but without the phenolic bitterness of tannins.
Vinous, savoury aromas:
Extended aging on yeast lees and MLF will impart cheesy aromas (medium-chain fatty acids), bread and cream (diacetyl), as well as creamier texture. Controlled oxidation through fermenting and aging in small format oak and/or higher inclusion of reserve wines (in NV Champagne) will increase aldehydes, adding a vinous (acetaldehyde), nutty aroma character (furfural) to the Champagne. The similarly nutty and roasted aromas in the fried stake are aldehydic compounds formed during the Maillard reaction (enhanced by medium-chain fatty acids).
Featured: Krug Grande Cuvée 167ème Édition
Despite the ambivalence towards intentional MLF, Krug’s house style is intentionally rich and powerful like many full MLF wines. This is achieved through using small (205L) oak barrels to ferment in, extended lees aging and, the extensive use of reserve stocks with ~7 g/L dosage.
The answer lies in the shared umami taste and sulphur compounds. In particular, dimethyl sulphide (DMS) that manifests as cabbage, asparagus, and truffle aromas. Yes truffle, you heard it right!
Let's break it down!
In washed-rind, soft & creamy cheeses (Epoisses, Taleggio, etc…) the brevibacterium bacteria produces sulphur compounds (DMS) and a notable pungency (penetrating sulphurous oniony, cabbage-like scent). DMS also causes PN's underlying forest floor and truffle character. The key is that the higher DMS concentrations in the cheeses increase perceived fruitiness and vivacity of the wines! Magical!
Voilà! All wine goes with cheese, isn't it?
The short answer is no. Cheese and wine is a lovely concept, but red wines require a bit of planning.
How about regional pairings like what grows together, goes together?
In that genre, Epoisses cheese and red Burgundy is a traditional pairing example. But will any Pinot Noir or any Burgundy do? Hardly. Washed-rind cheeses are not only pungent but also develop notable bitter taste as they mature. Red wines have tannins, and some of them taste bitter (i.e. phenolic bitterness). Moreover, higher ABV% (>13.5%) and the coumarin compounds from new oak barrels increase bitter perception too. And bitterness is additive! It means, best to forget Grand Cru/Premier Cru level wines from the Côte de Nuits and opt for a village or regional level Bourgogne with fresh acidity, silky tannins and light body.
Taleggio DOC & 2017 Louis Jadot Bourgogne Rouge
What do you enjoy with Pinot Noir?