Adventures in wining..
Picking the perfect wine for your meal doesn't mean you have to follow the traditional rules

Andrew Coppolino FOR THE RECORD
Thursday, October 21, 2004

Few pleasures are greater than the intermingling of good food and wine. The noble grape is often at the heart of a dining experience; yet, "in vino veritas:" the truth is that matching food and wine can be quite daunting for many diners.

Rather than feel bound by antiquated rules decreeing what kind of wine "goes with" a particular food, choose wines that you enjoy. However, a little viticultural education goes a long way: Dan Kislenko, wine columnist for the Grand River Valley Newspapers and Hamilton Spectator, joined me recently at Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar in Waterloo. His Wine and Spirits column appears in Grand River Life in Saturday's Record and Guelph Mercury, and he has written about wine for 20 years, taught wine courses, conducted tours of wine regions around the world, and is an international wine judge.

Sole, a beautiful restaurant of exposed brick and massive oak beams (and, of course, very good food), dates to 1858. Owners John and Alec Cerny have put together over 300 wine selections and have won a prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. In this setting, Kislenko made simple suggestions for matching wine with food.

Kislenko's approach is accessible and not just about "rules." For him, conventional wine guidelines (red wine with red meat, for instance) are just that: guidelines. He stresses flexibility and agrees that the best wine route to take is one leading to wines you enjoy.

Of his few rules, relying on your personal taste is paramount, but he also encourages a sense of adventure: restaurants offer many wine selections, and Kislenko urges experimenting with unfamiliar ones.

Choose your meal first and consider the ingredients in the food: wrapping your "mental tongue" around the dish, Kislenko says, is a key step that diners often ignore. Then, choose a wine with complementary flavours and characteristics (and one that complements your budget, too). Ask restaurant staff for assistance if you're in doubt.

More and more restaurants are offering wider ranges of wines by the glass, an excellent way to enjoy different wines and regions. Sole has about two dozen wines by the glass, and the waitstaff quickly accommodated our request and divided wine servings in half allowing us to taste several wines (and to do so responsibly).

I selected appetizers from Sole's newly released fall menu; Kislenko matched them with wine. Brie stuffed baked pear infused with port ($9.90) and Louisiana crab cakes ($10.90) started us off.

Kislenko chose Babich unoaked chardonnay from New Zealand ($9) along with a German Balbach riesling ($6). By simply taking a bite of food, thinking about the flavours, and then sipping the wine, we made some interesting discoveries about what worked and what didn't.

The slight sweetness of the pear went very well with the riesling and its peach and grapefruit flavours, and I found this wine the better match. The chardonnay went equally well with the crab cakes, but both wines were thinned out by the spicy tomato and jalapeno salsa.

Kislenko then selected red wines for baked Woolwich goat cheese in phyllo with blackberry compote ($9.90) and Thai ginger chicken dumplings ($8.90). The dumpling's peppery lemon-grass and chili broth did not work with the Australian shiraz-cabernet ($7) from Rosemount and was better suited to the South African Lammershoek pinotage barrique ($9) which had more oak and pepper flavours.

However, the black currant flavours of the shiraz-cabernet complemented the blackberry compote of the goat cheese while both this creamy cheese and the wine had full, round mouth-feel and matched nicely.

Kislenko finished his pairings by noting that selecting wine with dessert is difficult (and with chocolate almost impossible). The key here, he says, is making sure the wine is sweeter than the dessert.

Sole's excellent lemon mousse cake ($6.50) balanced well with Cave Spring Indian summer riesling ($8) -- lemon and fruit crispness characterized both the cake and this late harvest wine. Chocolate and caramel truffle cake ($6.90) was very good but even Rosenblum black muscat ($7) could not overcome the dense chocolate of this rich cake. A full-bodied coffee was the ideal match.

Selecting wine with dinner does not have to be intimidating. Kislenko's approach to teaming up wine and food is one that relies on individual taste, but individual taste with a sense of adventure.


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Sole Restaurant and Wine Bar - 83 Erb Street West, Waterloo, Ontario N2L 6C2 - Tel (519) 747-5622