Terra Bistro Italiano: Wine Pairings Dinner

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A splendid evening at a wine pairing dinner. A palette for the palate.

Paeter Lukes, Chef and Co-Owner

Paeter Lukes, Chef and Co-Owner

Latest visit: August 4, 2012
First visit: May 25, 2012

Wine and food matching is the process of pairing food dishes with wine to enhance the dining experience. In many cultures, wine has had a long history of being a staple at the dinner table and in some ways both the winemaking and culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together over the years. Rather than following a set of rules, local cuisines were paired simply with local wines. The modern “art” of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. In the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to make food pairing recommendations for the guest. The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently to each other and finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable.  

Annibale Carracci: The Beaneater.
For most of history, wine has been a regular accompaniment to meals. Often the culinary and winemaking traditions of a region would evolve together, creating a natural pairing between the local wine and the local cuisine.

In food and wine pairings, the most basic element considered is “weight”—the balance between the weight of the food (a heavy, red sauce pasta versus a more delicate salad) and the weight or “body” of the wine (a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon versus a more delicate Pinot grigio). In wine tasting, body is determined primarily by the alcohol level of the wine and can be influenced by the perceptions of tannins (from the grape skins or oak) and extract (the dissolved solids in the wine derived from winemaking processes like extended maceration and sur lie aging). An oaked Chardonnay from a warm wine region, such as Australia will be “heavier” in body than a stainless steel fermented Chardonnay from a cooler wine region such as Chablis. Pairing heavy wines with light dishes or vice versa, can result in one partner overwhelming the other. The “weight” of a food can also be described in terms of the intensity of its flavors—such as delicate and more subtle flavors versus dishes that have more robust and hearty flavors. A key to pairing upon this principle is to identify the dominant flavor of the dish. Sauces can be the dominant flavor instead of the meat or main component. While poached fish is usually light bodied and better served with a light white, if the fish is served with a heavy cream sauce it could be better balanced with a fuller bodied white wine or light red. You get the idea. For more, read this article

The key idea, then, is for the wine and the dish to complement each other in a way for which the whole is greater that the sum of the parts. And that is precisely how Terra Bistro Italiano constructed this marvelous feast. 

The Pairings

We had five courses tonight. 

Bruschetta Caprese

Bruschetta Caprese

Bruschetta Caprese 

This is a classic Italian appetizer. You can (and should) make it yourself this way: Brush toast with olive oil. Layer with one slice tomato, one round of mozzarella cheese, and one leaf of fresh basil for the classic Italian caprese salad, but served on a toast.

This is a simple and elegant starter and will start the juices flowing. Good choice. The bruschetta was a bit dry and crumbly, although the taste was fine.    

Crab and Lobster Bisque

Crab and Lobster Bisque

Crab and Lobster Bisque with Creme Fraiche and Puff Pastry Crouton paired with 
2009 Martin Codax Albarino (Spain)

This is a highly complex and rich bisque. The broth is enriched by adding the seafood shells whine cooking and reducing (the French do this with bouillabaisse), and the flavors are unbelievably good.  The wine choice was spot on. A fabulous combination.  

The Wine: 2009 Martin Codax Albarino 
100% Albarino 
This .wine has an attractive straw-greenish yellow color, with ripe lemon nuances. Bright and slightly sparkling. Stands out for its special intensity and elegance, its aroma reminiscent of damp, dewy fresh herbs with a perfume of semi-ripe apples.  

Grilled Steelhead Trout

Grilled Steelhead Trout

Grilled Steelhead Trout with a Salad of Va/enciaOrange, Galia Me/on and Spearmint paired with  
2011 Chapoutier “Betleruche” Cotes du Rhone Rose,France 

The steelhead is a sea-run rainbow trout (anadromous) usually returning to freshwater to spawn after two to three years at sea; rainbow trout and steelhead trout are the same species. The fish are often called salmon trout. Several other fish in the salmonid family are called trout; some are anadromous like salmon, whereas others are resident in freshwater only.
The species has been introduced for food or sport to at least 45 countries, and every continent except Antarctica. In some locations, such as Southern Europe, Australia and South America, they have negatively impacted upland native fish species, either by eating them, outcompeting them, transmitting contagious diseases, (such as whirling disease transmitted by Tubifex) or hybridization with closely related species and subspecies that are native to western North 

Calia Melon

Calia Melon

This fish is red, and some of our table guests thought il looked and tasted like salmon. Having just spent two weeks in Alaska and the Yukon Terr, I can assure you than nothing could be farther from the truth than this misconception. he steelhead is delicate and not salmon-oily. Peter served this grilled atop a bed of  diced fresh Valencia oranges and Galia melon   with a delicate vinaigrette added, and the dish became an instant star in the seafood firmament. 

The wine? Pink Rose has acquired an unwarranted bad name, probably from college days when it was bad, cheap junk. This Rose was simply perfect with the steelhead. The dryness of the Rose enhanced the fruitiness of the orange and melon pieces. A big success.   

The Wine: 2011 Chapoutier “Belleruche” Cotes du Rhone Rose 
85% Grenache, 10% Cinsault and 5% Syrah. 
Light pink, with salmon highlights. Aromas of red fruits, currant, raspberry and cherry. The freshness is well-balanced and round. Very focused and pure, with a hot stone note along the edges of the core of cherry, bitter orange and rose petal flavors.  

Roasted Filet Mignon

Roasted Filet Mignon

Roasted Filet Mignon with Basil Gnocchi Medallion Asparagus, Pancetta Cream and Porcini Demiglace paired with 
2009 Castello di Volpaia Chianti ClassicoTuscany,Italy

Sure, you have had Filet Mignon before. But never like this. Gnocchi with a filet? Why not. Widen your horizons. 

Chianti Classico with filet? I got my tablemates to try this simple test: Coat your fork tines with some of the demiglace, transfer it to your mouth without swallowing, and take a sip of the chianti. There is, in your mouth, a marriage of tastes that none of us would ever have predicted. This is what pairings are all about. 

Quality beef cooked perfectly to a medium rare. The demiglace reduction is superb. The pancetta was oven roasted and slightly crisp.  The plate was a delicious work of art. A palette on your palate. 

The Wine: 2009 Castello Volpaia Chianti Classico 
90% Sangiovese, 10% Merlot and Syrah 
Very oaky, this red has a resinous quality overlaying its cherry and strawberry flavors. This dry and ruby coloured red showcases complex roasted vegetables, spicy, floral and fruity scents. A full-bodied wine revealing a broad texture, firm tannins and a long finish.  

Red Cherry Clafouti

Red Cherry Clafouti

Red Cherry Clafoutis with Hazelnut Gelato paired with 
Warre’s 10 Year “Otimo’Tawny Port,Portugal

A clafouti is a  dessert made by covering cherries (preferrably pitted) with a batter and baking it outil the top is slightly browned. Peter Lukes’ version improves on this simple technique bu making the batter slightly airy and baking like a soufflé , rising in the oven but then allowing it to fall. (Yeah, really.) Served with a dollop of hazelnut gelato. This really wants to be served with a very sweet dessert wine. The tawny port was an excellent choice, for me.  

The Wine: Warre’s 10 year “Otima” Tawny Port 
A ripe and rich tawny. Loads of caramel, honey and dried apricots and orange marmalade, with just a hint of baked sugar pastry. Full-bodied, sweet and very toffee like on the palate. Long finish. Dying for hazel nuts and Stilton.

My Impressions

As a pairing event, this feast succeeded far beyond my wildest expectations. Was it a perfect meal? Of course not. It is not supposed to be perfect for everyone. There were perhaps sixty diners at this feast, with widely formed taste buds, but all hoping to learn something new. They did. So did I.

I liked the caprese, but the bruschetta needed some work. The bisque was loved by everyone with whom I talked, but  I thought that the  puff pastry croutons in the bisque were superfluous, and got too soggy.  The steelhead was close to being perfect. Some diners, expecting it to taste like salmon, were mildly disappointed. The pink Rose was a real eye opener. Wow. 

The filet waas, to me, perfect as was its pairing with the Chianti. This pairing disturbed some of the patrons: they expected a big red with high tannin content, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or maybe even a Barolo. I think that such a pairing would have been a poor choice; these champion wines would pair well  with a simply grilled and juicy filet. The Chianti worked perfectly for me with tonight’s richly sauced dish. I saved a few sips for later, and after the meal with a clean palate, the wine seemed too raw, resinous  and acidic. It is not, to me, a wine for sipping. It would be good with a heavily-spiced red-sauce-pasta dish. It is a food-demanding wine. 

Finally, the clafouti. I loved it, but thought the hazelnut gelato was a mistake. I hate hazelnut.   Perhaps a salty caramel gelato would have worked for me. I loved the tawny port, but most of my tablemates found it too cloyingly sweet. But that’s the whole idea with tawnys. Several glasses of the port were given to me to finish, which was fine with me. I can no longer drive, so I dug right in. 

Big success. I will be back for more pairings, and I hope to learn as much from future outings as I did at this one. Call the restaurant and ask to be put on the mailing list.  


Terra Bistro Italiano

Entrance(505) 792-1700

North Valley
1119 Alameda Blvd NW Map.313fd87
Albuquerque, NM 87114

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