Recently I received a call from Chef Gariel Ferguson of G's BBQ Restaurant to discuss the challenge of pairing wine with his delicious barbecued pig's tail. He suggested that one of the issues had to do with the bitter aftertaste that the very rich marinade produced. Never one to back down from a food and wine-pairing challenge, I suggested that there must be a wine match for the pig's tail, and that if he would do the honour of preparing the plates, I would bring a variety of wines -- and an ideal wine would result by the end of the meal.
Food Flavour Profile
One of the very first things that any sommelier would want to know about a dish is the dominant flavours and the intensity of that dish. While we all eat and appreciate great food, most persons do not know that when it comes to food and wine pairing you need to consider: how it is cooked, seasoned and sauced; how food is prepared: boiled, poached, roasted, baked, fried, grilled or smoked -- as all result in very different flavour components. After a pigtail sample tasting, I picked up that salt and some good tropical spices were the dominant flavours of this dish, leaning a bit in the favour of the salt.
The Food-Tasting Process
Just as the process of evaluating has few formal steps, so does food tasting. While experts do not all agree on any one method, here are the recommended steps: (1) Take a really good look at the food, how are the colours, is it visually appealing? (2) How is the food on the nose: smell the food. (I know our parents might have told us not to, but in this business you must.) Inhale the aromas. What are you getting? Is there a dominant flavour? Does it smell like how it is supposed to smell? (3) Texture -- the cooking method will make a difference here. Depending on your surroundings, use a fork to move the food around (or your fingers if that is possible) is it soft or firm? Smooth or chunky? (4) Taste --Does it match or is it stronger or lighter than the aroma? Chew deeply so you can pick up all four tastes -- sweet, sour, salt, bitter. How is the intensity of its flavours? (5) Finish -- swallow the food. Did you like it? How long is the finish (how long did the main flavours linger in your mouth)? Did you like it? If so, why? If not, why not?
The best pairing -- Brachetto
For this exercise, I bought one wine for every possible category of wine that's available. These categories typically are: (1) Sweet or Slightly sweet Wines -- these could be red, white or sparkling: We had a white and sparkling red for this experiment; (2) Dry, light body white wines with little or no oak (3) Dry, medium to full-body white wines with oak; (4) Light body, low tannin Red wines; (5) Medium to full-body red wines (6) Sparkling Wines
The small group tasted Chef Gariel Ferguson's very 'more-ish' barbecue pig's tail and then had a sip of each of the wines until we tasted all the wines. Most of the wines clashed with the very intense flavours of the food except a sweet Italian red sparkling wine I had called Magicale Brachetto. Legend has it that Julius Caesar and Mark Antony were seduced by Cleopatra with Brachetto wine. Magicale Brachetto is from Piedmonte in northwest Italy, and this sparkling ruby red wine has a caramel, apple, sweet berry flavour. The bubbles in sparkling wine refresh and cleanse the palate and cut through fatty or cream dishes. The sweetness also balanced the spices very nicely for a harmonious finish.
In general, highly salted foods work much better with wines that have high effervescence -- plenty of bubbles. When in doubt about food and wine pairings, always try a sparkling wine and experiment with the sweetness.
Chris Reckord - Entrepreneur & Wine Enthusiast. Send your questions and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on twitter: @DeVineWines @Reckord