Food pairing with wine is fun. Usually!

When your food includes mushrooms, particularly cooked ones it’s more challenging. Although it did turn out to provide a great wine tasting party idea.

Mushrooms are one of those problem foods when it comes to selecting wine so perhaps baked stuffed mushrooms weren’t the ideal appetizer for a dinner party with some wine knowledgable friends.

But I was keen to use a new recipe inspired by my wonderful summer spent in France. Being Francophiles I knew our friends would appreciate the French connection.

And I love a wine challenge.

The problem is umami

That intense savoury earthy flavour we are so familiar with when eating mushrooms is called umami. I had never heard of this term before I started studying wine but I quickly learnt it can have various negative impacts when you drink wine.

These include giving you a burning sensation in your mouth, making the wine taste bitter and causing your wine to lose some of its fruitiness.

Umami increases your perception of the warming effect of the alcohol in wine hence the burning sensation. It also decreases your perception of fruitiness, hence your wine can lose its fruity flavour and taste dull and lifeless (best avoided).

Fortunately there are various approaches you can take to tackle the problem. These come at the problem from two angles, the food itself and the wine you select.

The food angle

All those health messages about too much salt in the diet being bad for you means I’ve grown up believing that salt is the enemy. Turns out, as far as food pairing with wine is concerned, salt can be a great friend.

Particularly relevant for my appetizer, salt can help counter balance the umami in mushrooms. Since cooking greatly increases the umami taste of mushrooms, baked mushrooms were going to need some salty help.

My baked mushrooms were stuffed with sun-dried tomatoes, herbs and my favourite cheese, feta.

What better way to increase the saltiness of my entrée than via the addition of deliciously salty cheese.

That would help solve some of the problem, now all I had to do was find a wine that would enhance (and be enhanced by) the savoury creaminess of the mushrooms and cheese.

Finding the right wine

I did some research (of the book variety unfortunately) and discovered a variety of approaches. All agreed that it was best to avoid highly tannic red wines but there were competing arguments for other types of wine. White, sparkling and low tannic reds all had their champions.

How to decide? Then I had a brain wave.

Wine Tasting Party Idea – a mini wine tasting

We often go to wine tastings with our friends. We all have different levels of knowledge and wine experience and we like learning new things from each other as well from the tasting’s organiser. They are also wonderfully sociable.

We had often discussed having our own personal wine tasting but as with many plans agreed over a glass of wine, nothing had actually happened.

This was our chance. What better way to decide which wine paired best with mushrooms than to have a mini wine tasting. Instead of me deciding whether white wine or sparkling or a low tannic red was best, we would all get a say. And a taste.

Three approaches to the mushroom problem

The three approaches that had intrigued me most during my research would form the basis of our tasting. The aims of the three approaches were different.

When food pairing with wine you can either use the wine to lift the food by cutting through the texture or flavours of the food or you can attempt to match the texture and/or flavours. Our mini wine tasting was going to test both lifting and matching.

The three approaches selected were:

  1. A vintage Champagne which would lift the dish.
  2. Matching the creamy texture of mushroom with an oak-aged Chardonnay.
  3. Matching the earthy flavour of the mushroom with Pinot Noir. A red wine that should compliment the flavours but wasn’t heavy on tannins.

I did have to make one compromise in my wine selection since I didn’t have any vintage champagne. But with that one compromise I went down to my wine cellar (translation, bent down and looked into the cupboard under the stairs) and selected my wines.

Wines selected for our mini wine tasting

  1. Adnams brut Champagne
  2. Domaine de Perreau Désir D’Aurore, 2014, Chardonnay, Bergerac
  3. La Muse de Cabestany, Pinot Noir, Languedoc

The Results!

Firstly (and most importantly) it was great fun. The wine tasting was a great way to kick off our dinner.

Everyone got involved and there was lots of discussion about each wine and the impact it seemed to have on the food. We could see what each of the approaches was trying to achieve but had differing views on the success of each.

Did the Champagne win?

I think I was the one that liked the Champagne but then as you may have gathered from my other blog posts, I am a bit of a sparkling wine fan.

Despite this I had no problem in agreeing with the others that the Adnams brut Champagne was not the winner in this particularly wine tasting.
Good aperitif wine though.

I do think the Champagne would have been more of a contender if I had been able to offer a really good vintage champagne.

Particular a blanc de blanc (good with food) like the delicious 2007 Champagne Delamotte I had at a Decanter magazine wine tasting event a few years ago.

Bit out of my price range though.

did the Chardonnay win?

I like a well made Chardonnay and Domaine de Perreau’s Désir D’Aurore, 2014 Chardonnay is one of my favourites.

Made by a female wine maker, Gaëlle Reynou-Gravier in her small family vineyard, Domaine de Perreau near Bergerac. An area known for its Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion blends, Chardonnay is unusual.

This Chardonnay is aged on fine lees in barrels giving it a wonderfully round feel in the mouth (think butter) with enough oakiness for flavour but not to overpower the refreshing fruit.

Unfortunately in this particular wine tasting, we all felt that it lost something when paired with our baked mushroom appetizer.

I would be tempted to try a Chardonnay with this dish again though. Next time I would select a big oaky Australian Chardonnay. One of those wines that were all the rage in the UK a few years and have since fallen out of favour.

However they have their place. And I suspect such a Chardonnay would be better able to hold its own against (and possibly enhance) our savoury creamy stuffed mushrooms.

And the winner is………. the Pinot Noir!

No doubt on this one, completely unanimous.

This was the stand out winner. The Pinot Noir and the stuffed mushrooms were both enhanced by being consumed together, the key aim of food pairing with wine.

The winning Pinot Noir we tasted was La Muse de Cabestany from the French Languedoc.
Lots of juicy cherry fruitiness, elegant, smooth and well balanced.

Mini wine tastings are the way to go

I would thoroughly recommend a mini wine tasting as a wine tasting party idea to enjoy with friends. Tasting different wines to see how they pair with a particular dish is great fun.

It wasn’t that much more work for me as the organiser. Just a bit of research to select the wines. If I’d needed more help I would have asked the wine staff in my local supermarket or local wine shop, usually a good source of advice.

The best part was how involved everyone got in the tasting. There was no right answer so no one felt shy of voicing an opinion no matter their level of wine knowledge. And if you do it with your appetizer it gets your evening off to a great start.

Happy Wine Tasting! And Food Pairing!
Janne