Harvest 4-Course Dinner Wine Pairing Notes


This month’s 4-course Harvest Dinner was a celebration of sharing the produce from the International Wine & Spirit Guild’s garden so there are lots of vegetable courses in this menu.  It was a delicious feast and a great celebration of all the hard work our chef’s put into growing these vegetables.  The entire garden is organic, uses composting methods to enrich the soil and the produce was picked at it’s peak of flavor.

The 2 chefs do an excellent job of maintaining dish “balance”, that is, all the components of an individual dish are of equal flavor intensity. This actually helps make wine pairing easier! When a dish is “balanced” it allows you to pair the wine to several components of the flavor profile of the dish.

However, before actually picking wines to go with the food, I would like to talk about the concepts of a theme for the wine and a wine progression. The theme is a decision on what kinds of wines you plan to pick. A wine progression is a plan on how you are going to choose wines to go with each dish. Both are done before any wines are picked, but after you have a clear understanding of how the dishes relate to each other in terms of complexity, flavor intensity and richness of the food.

For this dinner the theme is all French wines and alternate between red and white wines as we progress from the amuse bouche to dessert. The progression I have chosen is to keep the first and second course light and then to purposely make the third course, the main course, seem richer while not making the dessert seem too heavy.

The amuse bouche (“happy mouth”), followed by the first and second course are all vegetable courses. The main course, the third course, uses red meat as the center of the plate.

Dessert courses are often the most difficult to pair, but in this case our goal is to not increase the sweetness of the food but to find a wine that can deal with the combination of sweetness and acidity (in this case balsamic vinegar).

To achieve these goals, in terms of the theme and progression, we teach our wine students to develop a visual approach to understand the complexity, flavor intensity and richness of the food as well as the progression of wines through the meal. The figure below shows each dish, as a box, and the arrows represent the general direction we plan on progressing through as we pick a wine to go with each course.

meal charting

Figure 1: Charting The September Dinner

So the way to interpret the arrows is to start with the amuse bouche, move to a slightly richer wine (downward arrow) for the first course, keep the second course of equal richness to the first course (arrow is straight across) then make the principal course seem significantly richer (downward arrow). Of course, the dessert wine, being almost vertical (downward), will enhance the observation of sweetness in the dessert.

If you would like to get one of these charts they can be purchased in our blog store or from our wine school at http://www.internationalwineguild.com.

Also, to make the evening interesting we wanted to go from red to white wines as we progressed through each course. So with five courses, we will go red (or rosé), white, red, white and red. This is being done just to make the meal more interesting and to remind everyone that the color of a wine really has nothing to do with wine and food pairing.


Aperitif and Amuse Bouche

Heirloom Bumble Bee Cherry Tomato Galette with Crême Fraiche

Domaine Allimant-Laugner, Crémant d’Alsace, Brut Rosé, NV


A key to making wine choices to go with food is to completely understand the food. Although not on the menu, it is important to understand that the tomatoes have been dried and the galette is a pastry.

These bumble bee cherry tomatoes are very small, cut in half, and then dried by adding salt to pull the moisture out of the tomatoes before they are added to the galette.  They are not real sweet, but the drying process will bring out the sweetness and acidity of the tomatoes as well as concentrate the flavors. The galette will add some fat to the dish because of the butter used to create it. Of course, the Crême Fraiche which is in the galette  dough adds to the richness as well.

Also, this is the aperitif wine, so it is the start of the meal. Usually you want the starter to be a celebration for the evening and the dinner. The amuse bouche should be a few bites added by the Chef to make the beginning more interesting. In a restaurant, the amuse bouche is a “gift” from the Chef to the guests that is free.

Alsace is one of the great regions of France. Actually it is the smallest AOC region. Although it does not specialize in sparkling wine it does produce a sparkling wine that can work quite well with lighter less complex dishes. A rosé was chosen because rosés are a sub-category of red wines, so it is in keeping with our wine theme.

This sparkling wine brings out the flavor of the tomatoes with great balance between the acidity and sweetness of the tomatoes by having the same characteristics in the wine. It also lets you taste the galette without it becoming to buttery for the rest of the dish.

The wine:

Producer: Domaine Allimant-Laugner

Growing Area: Crémant d’Alsace Rosé, Brut

Grape: Pinot Noir

Vintage year: Non-Vintage (NV)

You do not have to have Crémant d’Alsace Rosé from this producer, any sparkling wine from an Alsacian producer should work. Of course, you would like it to be a rosé to match our theme.


First Course

Tri-Fecta of Roasted Beets with Hazelnut Whipped Chévre and Mint Chiffonade

Olivier Leflaive, Chassagne-Montrachet, 2010


Beets are always fun in a wine and food pairing because it lets you pick a wine that can actually complement and bring out the earthiness of the beets. Think of this dish like a layer cake with each layer being a different kind of beet and between the layers is the Chévre cheese mixed with hazelnuts.

So the wine needs to be able to go with the beets but complement the richness of the Chévre as well. My choice was a classic white wine from The Côte de Or district of Burgundy. Few wines go better with earthy foods than white or red Burgundy.

The wine is quite complex and is about 95% Chardonnay and 5% Pinot Blanc. The Chardonnay has gone through a malolactic fermentation to increase the richness of the wine, increase the viscosity (called palate weight in winespeak) and body of the wine. The Chardonnay also spends 18 months, or so, in French oak. The Pinot Blanc is fermented and finished in stainless steel without going through the malolactic fermentation or oak aging. Then the two are blended together to create a wine that is a blend of richness and acidity.

This allows the combination of the beets and cheese to create a wonderful pairing with the wine. You get the opportunity to taste the earthiness and richness of each bite as you drink the Chassegne-Montrachet. The Pinot Blanc adds just enough acidity to wash the cheese and beets off the palate so the dish does not seem too heavy.

The wine:

Producer: Olivier Leflaive

Growing Area: Chassagane-Montrachet

Grape: Chardonnay

Vintage year: 2010

Second Course

Grilled Baby Bella Mushrooms Stuffed with Creamed Colorado “Peaches and Cream” Sweet Corn, Topped With Taleggio Cheese Fondue

Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux, Moulis-en-Médoc, 2009


Mushrooms are also earthy, but in a different manner than the beets. In addition, they do not have the sweetness the beets can add to the dish.

Chef Sherrie and I went around and around for a few minutes when discussing the corn in this dish because I initially kept asking “so there are peaches and cream in the corn dish?” There are no peaches, the “peaches and cream” is the name of this specific species of corn.

It is a little confusing because to make a real creamed corn there is heavy cream added to the corn. So there is cream to create richness in the dish along with the Taleggio cheese fondu on top.

The wine is from the Moulis village of the district of Médoc in Bordeaux. It is on the “left bank” so the informing grape is Cabernet Sauvignon. However, this is not a heavy, full-bodied wine with high tannin levels and fruit characteristics. It is a medium bodied  that is between dry and medium-dry in terms of sweetness, or more correctly fruitiness.

In class I would tell students this is a red wine disguised as a white wine. Meaning that it is a red wine that can be used for food and wine pairing like most people think you would usually want to use a white wine. The color of wine is not a pairing point, it is the structure of the wine that dictates how it can be used with food.

Also, a 2009 vintage from this growing area is reaching its peak drinking age. This means that the tannins (bitterness and astringency) the wine would have shown 2 or 3 years ago have dissipated and so you get the loamy earthiness and the fruit showing through. This make a great paring with the mushrooms, corn and cheese. They all blend together with the wine to create a great set of flavors on the palate.

The wine:

Producer: Château Dutruch Grand Poujeaux

Growing Area: Moulis-en-Médoc

Vintage year: 2009

Although you do not have to have this specific producer, it is critical that you have a 2009 vintage, or older. A younger wine, even from the same producer, will not pair as well with this dish. Do not use a full-bodied Bordeaux, it will completely overpower the dish.


Third Course

Grilled Smoked Beef Tenderloin Kabobs Studded with Baby Garlic Cloves, Herbed Cream Mustard Sauce and Grilled Baby Leeks over Heirloom Bean Stew

(Vegetarian Option –Roasted Zucchini Squash Stuffed with Mixed Vegetable Risotto over Heirloom Bean Stew)

Domaine Juliette Avril, Chateauneuf de Pape Blanc, 2011


The beef was cold smoked, meaning no heat, and the garlic cloves added a nice touch of flavor to the beef. The final service temperature was about mid rare. The mustard sauce was not overpoweringly spicy and the heirloom beans were Christma Lima Beans so they added a nice rich character to the dish. They had the flavor of chestnuts!

Tenderloin, cut as a filet mignon, does not have much texture and fat. So the other components of the dish added these characteristics to the flavor and mouth feel of the dish.

Going back and forth between red and white wines, this course is paired to a white wine. So I need a white wine that has the body, flavor intensity and richness of a red wine. The Châteauneuf-de-Pape blanc is a great example of this style of white wine.

Being medium-dry it will bring out the smoke and mustard sauce and complement the beans as well as the steak. When you take a bite of the food and then drink some wine you can observe all the flavor components of the dish. And because this wine is medium-dry with respect to sweetness (or fruitiness) and the previous two dishes were dry it will make the dish seem significantly richer as well.

Service temperature in meats is critical in pairing wine to them. If you were to cook this tenderloin all the way to well-done the flavor intensity and texture would overpower this wine. When you are doing a planned wine dinner, where everybody is eating the same dish, then the service temperature should be the same for all the dishes. This wine would stand up to a medium service temperature, but would not stand up to a medium-well or well-done service temperature.

When you are offering a vegetarian option, as we did at this dinner, then the goal of the vegetarian option is to match, as closely as possible, the texture and flavor intensity as the non-vegetarian dish. So the zucchini were lightly roasted and not overcooked to allow the texture to be similar to a medium-rare tenderloin. This allows the vegetarians to have as good a wine pairing as the people eating the non-vegetarian dishes using the same wine.

The wine:

Producer: Domaine Juliette Avril

Growing Area: Châteauneuf-de-Pape Blanc

Grape: Grenache blanc

Vintage year: 2011

Again, you don’t need the same producer, but if you go to your favorite wine shop make sure you tell them you want a Châteauneuf-de-Pape Blanc. If you just ask for a Châteauneuf-de-Pape you will be getting a red wine that would overpower this dish.

Dessert Course

Sweet and Savory Balsamic Cherry Pie in a Jar with Black Pepper Pastry Crust

Le Ragose, Recioto della Valpolicella Classico, 2007


Desserts are almost always the most difficult pairing. For a wine to pair to a dessert requires a wine that is slightly sweeter than the dessert, and, like all wine and food pairings, of equal flavor intensity. Most well made dessert wines also need to have enough acidity to “wash” the sweetness off your palate and the acidity in the wine keeps the sugar from not being cloying.

Acidity in wine (or food) makes you salivate and lets you observe tastes in the food as well as reduce the fat or richness of a dish.

Don’t think of this dessert like an American cherry pie, it is not that sweet or heavy. Actually, the addition of Balsamic vinegar keeps the dish from being too sweet.

A Recioto della Valpolicella Classico is a red dessert wine from the growing area of Valpolicella Classico, where Classico means the old or traditional growing zone. Recioto is an ancient technique where you pick the grapes and let them desiccate in large open air room for 30 to 90 days. This produces a wine with raisin, fig, dates and dried fruit characteristics.

The wine is also fairly high in acid. The combination of sugar and acid is a perfect pairing to the similar characteristics in the Cherry Pie.

So the wine lets the cherries show through, along with the balsamic acid and the black pepper. A great combination. But is not too sweet to overpower the food.

The wine:

Producer: Le Ragose

Growing Area: Valpolicella Classico

Grape: Corvina

Style: Recioto

Vintage year: 2007

Rember to ask for a Recioto dell Valpolicella Classico, if you only ask for a Valpolicella Classico you will get a nice red wine, but it won’t go with dessert.

The Recipes:

Beginning tomorrow the 2 chefs will start posting all of the recipes for this dinner!

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