May 4-Course Dinner Wine Pairing Notes


Wine and food pairings by Claude Robbins

Aperitif and Amuse Bouche

Smoked Salmon, Crème Fraiche, Caviar and Chive Blossoms

Segura Viudas, Cava, Brut, Gran Reserva, Heredad, Non-vintaged (NV)

First Course

Grilled Radicchio with Spicy Walnuts & Apples

Wrapped in Bacon with a Garlic Tarragon Ranch Dressing

with a Balsamic Vinegar drizzle

  1. J. Prüm, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Riesling Kabinett, 2007

Second Course

Eggplant and Zucchini Herbed Ricotta Napoleons with Roasted Grape Tomatoes and a Fire Roasted Marinara sauce

Castello Monaci, Salice Salentino, Liante, 2010

Third Course

Roasted Brined Pork Chops with Wild Mushrooms, Oregano, and Thyme Creamed Demi-Glace with Potatoes Dauphinoise

Guigal, Gigondas Rouge, 2010

Dessert Course

Moscato Misu with Bittersweet Chocolate Shavings

Vignaioli di S. Stefano, Moscato d’Asti, NV

Wine for a multi-course meal, much like the food, requires a fair amount of planning. Not only does the wine have to work for the course it is paired to, it must also work as part of a sequence of wines. That is, from first course to last course the wines must follow through a progression of increasing body, increasing fruitiness and increasing richness. What this means is that as you move from one course to the next you know that the wines are more full-bodied and “richer” (i.e.: increasing body and fruit) than the previous wine.

Aperitif and Amuse-bouche

This is the first of the dinners to include an Amuse-bouche. An amuse-bouche is a single bite (or two) sized hors d’oeuvre. The phrase means “happy mouth” or more directly translated, “mouth amuser.” The term became popular in the 1980’s, replacing the traditional term amuse-gueule which has roughly the same meaning.

Usually the amuse-bouche is not a menu item, it is a ‘gift’ from the chef of a single bite to indicate the direction the dinner will take, or a showcase of the Chef’s skills.

In a normal context the lox, crème fraiche and caviar would have been one bite. By partially deconstructing the classic hors d’oeuvre, it creates a series of flavors that are more noticeable because they have been separated into two bites. The first bite was the smoked salmon (with chive blossoms) on a cracker and the second was the crème fraiche and caviar also with chive blossoms on a cracker. The chive blossoms came directly out of Chef Sherrie’s herb garden.

The wine must work well with each flavor of the amuse-bouche, one each cracker, rather than all of the parts of a bite combined. The cracker with the lox is on it has a light towards moderate smoky character to complement the texture and oil of the salmon. The blossoms add a hint of sweet and bitter to this bite.

The second bite, with the crème fraiche, caviar and blossoms is a very different taste profile. The crème fraiche makes the bite taste richer, while the caviar adds a salty briny character that is not overpowering but noticeable. The blossoms are much more subdued in this bite because of the other ingredients, however, they show through during the persistence of the finish of the taste of the food.

So the wine needs to work with this combination of flavors and have enough on-palate persistence to linger until the flower blossoms attack.

I chose a Spanish Gran Reserva Cava, brut, sparkling wine produced in the Champagne method.   The Gran Riserva statement on the bottle means the wine has been aged for 5 to 6 years on its lee’s (dead yeast) for added richness and complexity. The informing grape of the wine is Macabeo, the most commonly used grape to make a Cava.

It is not unusual to pair Champagne to caviar. Although most people are not aware that Champagne should be an extra dry not a brut to best match the caviar. Extra dry is slightly sweeter than brut and goes better with the briny flavor. In this wine the brut designation happens to be quite close to an extra dry style (extra seco in Spanish).

So the Cava reduces the smoky character of the lox and lets the actual flavor of the salmon show through, it also reduces the observation of the fish oil (the acidity of the wine washes it off the palate). With the crème fraiche and caviar it complements the richness of the crème fraiche and allows the caviar to show through but not dominate the taste. With either bite, the chive blossoms show through at the end to help clear the palate.

Producer: Segura Viudas

Appelation: Cava

Style or Type: Brut, Gran Reserva

Vintage year: non-vintaged (NV)

If you cannot find this particular producer and style, any other Gran Reserva Cava should work equally as well.

First Course


Salads can be very difficult pairings. It is not usually the lettuce and other vegetables in the salad, it is the salad dressing that creates the difficulty. Vinegar and oil dressings can break a wine (vinegar is what wine turns into as it goes “bad”) while classic dressings such as 1000 Island, Ranch, French, and so forth, can be quite sweet making them very difficult to pair.

This is one reason that salad is often served as a “transition course,” after the main course and before the dessert. You usually don’t serve wine with transition courses, they act as a palate break before the dessert is served. However, sometimes you want to serve a salad at the beginning of a meal AND you want to pair wine to it.

In this case we have a very complex salad, in terms of flavors, and a desire to show as many of the different flavors as possible. To achieve this I will do a very technical pairing using the sugar and acid structure of the wine to bring out different flavors in the salad.

Here are the key flavors: Radicchio – bitterness, Walnuts – slight spice, Apples – sweetness, Bacon – fat and smoke, Dressing – herbs and sweetness, Balsamic vinegar – slight sweetness and acidity (unlike regular vinegar, the oak aging of Balsamic vinegar makes it pairable with wine).

The apple and bacon component is a separate bite from the rest of the salad. So the wine needs to pair to the greens with salad dressing, balsamic and walnuts as well as the apple and bacon. This was Chef Sherrie’s homemade bacon.

Using acidity and sweetness we can complement or contrast each of the flavor components of the dish. The actual wine chosen is a German Riesling. The style is classic German, called a Kabinett, and is about 2% residual sugar in combination with observable malic, citric and succinic acids. The acids will attack the palate in a specific sequence: malic (tart green apples) for about 2-3 seconds, followed with citric acid (lemons and limes) for about 3-4 seconds and succinic acid (slightly salty and bitter) for another 4-6 seconds. Each time the acid changes on the palate (malic, citric, succinic) it will change what flavors are observable in the salad.

This is the sequence: sweetness as a contrast to the bitterness in the radicchio, followed by the walnuts (made slightly more spicy by the sugars in the wine) and salad dressing becoming more creamy with a hint of herbs and last the balsamic. Also the succinic acid in the wine will help wash all of the flavors off the palate so you are ready to take another bite.

The apple and bacon bite will show through on the palate as sweetness, smoke and fat; all accentuated by the wine.

Producer: Joh. Jos. Prüm

Appelation: Wehlener Sonnenuhr in the Mosel

Grape: Riesling

Style or Type: Kabinett (at about 2% residual sugar)

Vintage year: 2007

If this producer is not available then any good Riesling, Kabinett will work, make sure it is about 2% residual sugar.

In many ways this is one of the more difficult pairings I have ever done.

Second Course


Usually I try and avoid traditional pairings. A traditional pairing would be wine from the same location (in Europe) as the food. These are often called “natural” pairings in Europe. But in this case I made an exception because the “natural” pairing is not one most people are familiar with.

The wine is a Salice Salentino from the Puglia region of Italy (the heel of the boot of Italy). It was on the Salentino plain that tomatoes were first planted in Italy (along with a location just South of Naples on the opposite side of the peninsula) about 1810. Since wine follows food, the Salice Salentino was the first wine “invented” to go with Italian tomato sauce. In fact, it makes the sauce “come alive” on the palate.

The informing grape of the Salice Salentino is Negro Amara, a red grape that has been grown in Italy for about 2000 years. However, the wine is produced in a way that the herbal character of the grape and oak show through. Also, the wine is only medium body and medium-dry in character. It cannot be more full bodied because if the wine were medium-full or full bodied it would overpower the dish.

The wine will bring out the flavors of the eggplant, zucchini and ricotta cheese, as well as enhance the flavor of the Marinara sauce. However, this is clearly a case where the wine is designed to pair to the sauce, regardless of what the sauce is on. I will use the same technique in the next course as well.

Producer: Castello Monaci

Appelation: Salice Salentino

Grape: Negro Amaro

Vintage year: 2010

Again, if this producer is not available, any Salice Salentino should work. However, avoid a Salice Salentino Riserva because it will be too full bodied for the dish.





Third Course


In the last dish I paired the wine to the sauce because it was a “natural” pairing. For this course I am also pairing the wine primarily to the sauce, but for a completely different set of reasons.

As I have said in other blogs, there are basically four components of any dish you can pair the wine too: the protein, the herbs and sauces, the sauce(s) and the impact of the cooking technique. Also, it is most important to make sure the pairing brings out the center of the plate and not just the side dishes. Sometimes you can make it work equally well for center and side dishes.

The Gigondas, from the Southern Rhône valley, is primarily paired to the rich, earthy demi-glace sauce. When you pair wine to sauces, the protein usually becomes a delivery device for the sauce. That is, the protein is not as important to the pairing as the sauce and it has been prepared in such a way as to not overpower the sauce. This is actually quite common in French and Italian cuisine where sauces may be considered the most important, and richest, flavors in the dish.

Chefs, such as our 2 Chefs, who are extraordinary in their understanding of this type of dish, can prepare a dish where the flavor intensity of the sauce (key pairing component) and the meat (secondary pairing component) are close enough in flavor intensity that the wine will complement both.

In addition, the side dishes are often lost, or down-played, in any pairing because the center of the plate is more important than the side dishes. Rarely is the side dish as rich and complex as either the sauce or the protein. However, this is one of those rare cases where the side dish is rich enough, and has enough flavor intensity, that the wine pairs equally as well to the potatoes dauphinoise as it does the pork with creamed wild mushroom demi-glace sauce.

The wine brings out the rich, earthy, character of the sauce and makes it seem richer without being heavy. You can also get a hint of the brined pork, particularly if you get a bit of the fat on the pork along with the meat. At the same time the potatoes, really it’s the heavy cream and the Gruyere cheese, that create a richness that matches the sauce and makes the side dish work with the wine.

Even the sprig of rosemary, served as a garnish, brought out the spiciness of the wine.

Producer: Guigal

Appelation: Gigondas

Grape: Grenache Noir

Vintage year: 2010



Dessert Course


This is a fun, summertime play, on tiramisu. It is a Moscato Misu.

This pairing is a marriage of wine and food. A marriage occurs when a wine is used in the dish. Ideally, to really capture the best flavors of the wine in the dish, you want to serve the same wine as you cook with. This may increase the cost of preparing the dish, but I guarantee it will dramatically increase the flavor of the dish and how it pairs to the wine. Finally, don’t forget that when you are pairing wine to dessert the wine needs to be slightly sweeter than the food.

In this dish the ladyfingers were soaked overnight in Moscato d’Asti. This is the marriage: the ladyfingers and the wine.

Muscat (Moscato in Italian), as a grape, is famous for producing sweet dessert wines that have a slight orange character. This worked well in the Moscato Misu where the sweetness of the wine brought the sweetness of the dish along with the orange. The sweetened ricotta cheese was observable, and the ladyfingers became less a texture and more a delivery device for the wine. At the end of each bite of Misu with the wine the taste of the bittersweet chocolate came through to make an interesting finish on the flavors of the dessert as well as a finish to the entire meal.

Producer: Vignaioli di S. Stefano

Appelation: Moscato d’Asti

Grape: Muscat

Vintage year: Non-vintaged

Any Moscato d’Asti can be substituted for this producer so long as you can find one that is about 5.5% alcohol. Matching the alcohol will help ensure that the sweetness of the wine is close to the one we served.

A thank you to Carol Chamberlain, a Master Candidate and Senior Wine Instructor for the Guild, for taking notes during the dinner and adding her ideas of how the pairings worked.

The Judges and Jury members attending this dinner were Teresa (food writer, Colorado Springs Gazette & Gerry Farney, Joy (MC) & Danny Campbell, Carol Chamberlain, and Gerrie Gillin, Executive Sommelier.

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