The profession of a sommelier is quite demanding. It not only requires a deep theoretical knowledge of wine, but also a solid tasting technique in order to break down the main elements of a flavor.
Aside from purchasing and selling wine – along with overseeing and maintaining an extensive wine list and cellar – a large part of my role at Le Bernardin is creating wine and food pairings with Chef and co-owner Eric Ripert. I believe that excellent pairings are essential to a successful dining experience, and creating and developing them is something I am very passionate about.
When pairing a wine with a dish, I take a systematic approach. I will often experiment with up to twelve glasses of different styles of wine (dry, fruity, high or low acid, oak or no oak, light or heavy). This is something customers new to wine pairings are always surprised by – the tremendous number of glasses! I try to taste the wines one after the other and make notes on what works and what doesn’t. I place my findings on a scale of 0-5 that I input in a grid format. This helps my team evaluate which wines and food complement each other the best, and what doesn’t work as well.
This grid highlights all of my notes and considerations, and provides a substantial overall look to build a progressive wine pairing. In all this work, I’m searching for flavors of food and wine that not only connect, but also elevate each other – the perfect pairing.
This is always my ultimate goal, and in pursuing it, I use a combination of sensory experience and wine theory. I always try the food or sauce first to get a true picture of the flavor components in the dish, and from that point, I select the wines and begin tasting. There are many combinations where flavors simply co-exist, but don’t enhance each other – this might seem a safe harbor, but it just doesn’t excite me. Even worse, though, is a scenario where food and wine are detrimental to one another. A conflicting pairing experience can turn both the food and wine tannic, sour and bitter. But there are guidelines and rules I turn to when creating a pairing – for example, never match acid with acid, but fat and sweet generally work well.
However, as a sommelier, it’s the perfect pairings that stray outside of these guidelines that can be the most thrilling. While I certainly look to clear-cut harmonies at times, I seek out pairings which theoretically makes no sense. For example, the Chocolate Caramel Egg at Le Bernardin with Westmalle Trappist Ale was an extraordinary discovery. It’s these unexpected that can still truly surprise me, and create a remarkable dining experience.
You can discover more about perfect pairings at Aldo Sohm’s seminar on January 28th, a unique opportunity to learn from an accomplished expert.