Williamson Wines specializes in food pairings with their award-wining wines, which are available exclusively through their Sonoma County tasting room in Healdsburg. Vintner Bill Williamson shares his favorite food and wine combinations, along with a little wine history, and his own winemaking philosophy in this abridged excerpt from Chapter 7, “The Brilliance of Bordeaux.”
The five noble reds of Bordeaux (Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Petite Verdot, Merlot, and Malbec) have attributes that are both similar and different. This allows them to integrate seamlessly when blended together, either to improve a single varietal or to make a completely different wine. The names of these grape varietals are internationally recognized and used universally to describe Bordeaux blends:
Meritage (rhymes with “heritage”) refers to American wines that are made in the Bordeaux style. In 1988 a group of American vintners formed the Meritage Association to identify handcrafted wines blended from the traditional noble Bordeaux varietals.
Cuvée is a name derived from a French term for vat. The name is used throughout the French wine community and generally means “a special blend of wine.” The word cuvee is also used in terms such as vin de cuvée,cuvée special and tête de cuvée to indicate a first-press wine or a wine that winemakers believe to be among their finest.
Claret is an English word used to describe a Bordeaux blend designed for the English palate. Because of complicated labeling requirements by the U.S. government that restrict the use of the words Bordeaux and Claret, we decided to simply call our Bordeaux-style Claret Vin Rouge, whichliterally means “red wine” in French.
Our Bordeaux-style blends contain all five Bordeaux varietals. None of these five dominates the taste in our Meritage. In our Cuvée, the Cabernet Sauvignon dominates the nose, and Malbec the back palate. The distinction of our Vin Rouge is that the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot act as one.
We make several Bordeaux-style blends because foods range in flavor from mild to strong. For example, in ranking steak from mild to strong, you might rank them in this order: filet mignon, hanger steak, New York, rib-eye, and tri-tip. If you were to rank Bordeaux red wines the same way, you might rank them in this order: Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Malbec. When pairing foods, it is important to match the intensity of the wine with the strength of the food’s flavor.
The first reason for blending wine, therefore, is to “complete” a specific wine by enhancing what the winemaker interprets to be a particular varietal’s best characteristics. For example, a Merlot is often enhanced by the addition of a little Cabernet Sauvignon.
The second reason for blending is to produce a unique wine, or in our case to complement a particular food group. Our three Bordeaux blends, Allure Meritage, Entice Cuvée, and Clarissa Vin Rouge were all created to fill a void that single varietals just failed to fill.
Allure Meritage is a complex wine designed to enhance complex foods. Complex foods are those in which there are several flavors in your mouth at the same time – for example, osso buco, lasagna, casseroles and stews, or even a combo pizza with five toppings. Allurewill encourage these foods to reveal their layers of flavor, bringing surprise and delight to each mouthful.
Entice Cuvée is also a complex wine designed to enhance grilled foods and work well with black pepper. Grilled foods have a strong aroma, provide a burst of flavor in the mouth, and then quickly dissipate from the palate. For this reason, chefs often use black pepper to keep a taste on the palate. The problem, however, is that black pepper and red wine together grow hot and spicy on the palate. Entice manages the mouth experience by keeping the effect of the pepper at the level set by the chef, thereby allowing the true flavor of the food to shine through. Clarissa Vin Rouge is a wine that we designed to enjoy at any time – either alone or with a wide variety of foods. Some red wines tend to tire the palate (the taste of the wine lessens after the second glass), but the composition of Clarissa keeps it fresh and alive, even as you quaff it.
Our Bordeaux blends complement virtually all types of meats, whether roasted or stewed, and also any type of cheese. Here are some specific food pairings for the Bordeaux blends:
Cabernet Sauvignon: Meats; cheeses; honey, fruits, and nuts
Cabernet Franc: Creamy dishes, such as beef Stroganoff or pelmeni (a type of Russian dumpling) with melted butter or sour cream; fruit and cream desserts, such as crème brûlée
Malbec: Bone-in steaks, such as T-bone or porterhouse; beef short ribs over smoky vegetables; hot, spicy foods
Merlot: Delicate, fatty meats, such as filet mignon; rack of lamb, veal, or pork; duck; venison; and chocolate desserts
Meritage: Complex, multiflavored foods, such as osso buco, lasagna, casseroles, coq au vin, and stews
Cuvée: Grilled, caramelized meats, such as rib-eye steak and prime rib; any fish or beef dish with black pepper
Vin Rouge (Claret):This is a drinking wine that goes with anything. Serve it in place of coffee or beer.
Williamson Wines will soon release a recipe book, Pairings: The Relationship Between Wine and Food. It contains sensible, easy-to-prepare recipes for food that pair well with our wines. With Pairingsat your side in the kitchen, your food and wine combinations will come alive!
Way Beyond Wine, The Williamson Wines Story by Ken Majer and Bill Williamson will be released in December 2009, www.waybeyondwine.com.