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Epicurian's Corner

Pairing your wine with the perfect out door Montreal grill:

For the Montrealer, a holiday barbecue means it's beer time. Teetotalers stick with soda, lemonade, or iced tea. Maybe some margaritas; daiquiris don't hurt either. But few people seem to think of wine when they fire up the grill. What a shame! There's something about the outdoor setting, the atavistic pleasure of an open fire, and the masculine image of the grill that, for too many people, says this is no time to be putting on airs and fooling with wine glasses. But wine should never have become associated with pretense in the first place, and wine can be the perfect accompaniment to a Montreal barbecue and not so filling as beer, nor so potentially embarrassing as multiple margaritas.

For red wine lovers of Montreal:

Anything coated in barbecue sauce, with its smoky, spicy, and typically sweet flavors, admittedly poses a challenge for wine pairings. A young, bold, fruity and spicy red wine, such as Zinfandel, American Syrah or Aussie Shiraz, or a French Côtes du Rhone should stand up to the barbecue flavors--Zinfandel, being from Montreal myself with the French influent maybe a St. Emillion, for Dollard des Arm day. Chianti and Barbera, with their higher acidity, will also handle tomato-based sauces

Grilled meats, like steak, can work with a wider range of reds, including young Cabernets. And hamburgers should be fine with just about any red wine--just pick your favorite (although I wouldn't suggest opening anything too old or complex--the wine's subtleties will probably be lost). Beaujolais, just slightly chilled, is a popular choice.

There's one hitch with red wines, though: come barbecue season, in most of the Canada, it's too hot. In hot weather, red wines lose their aromas, seem flabby on the palate, and aren't refreshing. Moreover, spicy foods cry out for a mouth-cooling beverage, which is one reason beer is so popular.

Two Montreal cool solutions:

Crisp, intensely aromatic high-acid white wines, especially Sauvignon Blanc, work very well with grilled flavors. Sauvignon Blanc (sometimes called Fumé Blanc) is great with grilled vegetables and shrimp, and is the best wine with tomatoes. Off-dry (slightly sweet) Rieslings and Gewurztraminers should pair nicely with spicier and sweeter barbecue flavors. Chardonnay, however, is probably not your best bet.

Or, try my current, all-purpose barbecue favorite: dry rosé, a summertime treat. Good rosés combine the crispness and refreshment of white wine (serve chilled) with unusual and intriguing flavors--some of the red fruits typical of red wine, but also notes of tea, orange rind, strawberries and--aptly--watermelon. Look for rosés from the southern Rhone, Languedoc, and Provence in France, Rioja in Spain, or such American examples as Bonny Doon's Vin Gris de Cigare or Zaca Mesa's Z Gris. Too long out of fashion because of their association with cheap, sweet blush wines, rosés are for me perfect summer wines.

As for those blush wines, if they are what you enjoy, don't let anyone stop you. Some say White Zinfandel is the ultimate wine for hot dogs!

Pairing what works for you?

Texture: Match “power with power;” light-textured food balances better with lighter-bodied wines, while heavier dishes demand fuller-bodied wine. It’s not just the amount of alcohol or kinds of flavors involved; mouthfeel plays an important role.

Cooking methods: Poaching, searing, grilling – each method changes the intensity of the dish and emphasizes different textures and flavors; knee-jerk pairings deserve reconsideration when a different cooking method comes into play.

Complement or Contrast: A contrasting wine – high-acid white with a richer dish – cleanses the palate and invigorates the appetite; a bigger wine which complements the richness makes for a meditation from one bite to the next.

Dominant Flavor: The protein is not always the dominant flavor in a dish; keep the sauce – especially traditional, high-in-fat sauces – in mind when you’re choosing the wine.

Keeping wine in order: Whether alone or with food, you’ll get the most out of your wine drinking if you keep some things in order; otherwise the wines may suffer in comparison of their predecessors. So:

  • Dry wine before sweet wine
  • Lower alcohol before higher alcohol
  • Sparkling wines before still wines
  • Younger wines before older wines
  • Light wines before full-bodied wines

Finally, when you order a bottle of wine to go with a multi-course meal – or when everyone has ordered something different – keep an eye out for crossover wines – wines that can pair with two or three different dishes. New World Sauvignon Blanc, Indigenous Italian whites, California Pinot Noir, and Southern Italian reds are all good examples of versatility.

I hope this will help on your next culinary adventure!