Crush: Where There’s Smoke …

top pairing
by Jeff Harding with photos by Antoinette Bruno
Vol. 23
April 2012   

When pairing food with wine, we seek synergy: individual components playing well with others. (Often such a top pairing’s expression is greater than the sum of its parts, so forgive us if we extol the virtues of a classic, but it’s just that good.) For smoked meats or duck, a somm generally knows an easy match will be found on the Rhône Valley section of the wine list. But smoke the duck and add in some NOLA-style dirty fregola, and a little more work is necessary.

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Wine Director Ray Gumpert

Fortunately, Emeril’s Sommelier Ray Gumpert understands hard work, having climbed the restaurant ladder from busboy to sommelier. And just as time spent as a back waiter and captain help Gumpert understand the smooth machinery behind Emeril’s success, knowing the details behind each dish makes pairing a perfect match that much easier

Cotes du Rhône, Coudoulet de Beaucastel, 2009
Sorghum-smoked Duck Breast, Dirty Freggola, Choucroute, and Truffle Pâté
Pairing Note

2012 New Orleans Rising Star Chef David Slater’s dish is an ode to earth notes, with a little zing of choucroute and mustard seeds. (Describing his dish actually sounds a bit like a wine description: smoky meat aromas and texture, funky earth notes, and pleasant acid balance.) Slater smokes the duck cold, and to add earthy character, he makes a variation of dirty rice using fregola sarda with duck liver. Red cabbage choucroute gives a little acid balance to lighten the dish. Gumpert points out that the richness of the duck calls for a certain weight in the wine, and the earthy, fruity character of his selection reflects and enhances the rustic nature of the dish.

But how do you make smoke sing? There’s often a smoke quality to any barrel-aged red wine, but Francois Chartier, master of molecular sommellerie, considers that too easy, calling it the “harmonic comfort zone.” For a more powerful “aromatic synergy,” he suggests Rhône Valley wines as the right choice for smoke and game. For this pairing, Gumpert followed smoke to the Rhône, but dug a little deeper for the earth (so to speak).

His choice, Coudoulet de Beaucastel, is the second label of the famed Chateau de Beaucastel, or its “little brother,” as Gumpert puts it. The Cotes du Rhône blend of Mourvedre, Grenache, Syrah, and Cinsault is a juicy, finely-tuned expression of a Rhône Valley classic. Mourvedre is known for its funky, smoky, and meaty qualities, but sometimes it can be over-bearing, so the wine masters at Beaucastel know to add some Grenache for balance and Cinsault for sophisticated aromatics. Also in the mix is Syrah, which also expresses smoke compounds and provides that full-bodied, jammy fruit component that makes it pair with so well with game birds and smoked meats. A final touch of garrigue herbs on the nose is like a little herbal garnish on the plate, and completes the rustic depth of this classic pairing.

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