Wine vs. Beer Round 2

Posted by on Jan 13, 2015

As I sit here destroying my taste buds with some ridiculously hot salsa, it seems a perfect time, really, to do a little writing on flavour matches. Last month I was called back to Appellation in order to make a case and defend a title gained back in 2013 in a Wine vs. Beer food pairing which Ash and I led with the Scottish Funding Council. For the past year this has been a constant point of discussion within the shop, the reminiscences nearly always culminating in my hands being raised in a variety of celebratory exposés, while Ash would always shake his head, assuring me that the next time would be different.

The run-up to this year’s event proved to be even more of a challenge than in 2013. Settling upon a different line up of foods, Ash and I also agreed (me somewhat reluctantly) that we could not use any of the same drinks either. Given that last December I had used some top-tier bottles to obtain a victory, I sought to review my original perspective and consider this restriction to be an opportunity for me to demonstrate how your more general (but no less respectable) beers could do just as well as their more expensive counterparts when sat next to food.

And so, on a torturously cold Wednesday evening, thirteen voters, four foods, eight drinks and two rivals came to revisit the question of what beverage you reach for when planning your meal.

 

Round 1: Cheese

Comte de Savoie is a creamy nutty, unpasteurized cow milk cheese from France. This one had a definite sweetness that was faintly cut by a low level of salt. The texture was just on the right side of rubbery, and it certainly did a job of coating the mouth after you had swallowed.

Wine: Varoux Chablis

Going for the French classic to match the French classic, Ash’s choice of acidic chardonnay grapes proved to be a contender. It was the type of wine you imagine well-to-do, tuxedoed, opera attendees claiming to have a ‘floral bouquet’, though there was a grassiness and a lemony-lime edge at the end which even I rather enjoyed. Overall, it had a stripping, mineral mouthfeel and freshness which was very nice.

Beer: Paulaner Salvator Doppelbock

Starting with a beer pushing 8%, I was determined not to lose a round this time around because I failed to produce a big enough beer. The Paulaner monks having essentially invented the Doppelbock style, there can be no doubt that this is a stellar beer. Aromas of sweet loaves of bread, raisins, dates, and roasted nuts are followed through on the palate, but then swept away by an unsuspected lightness and brisk hop bitterness at the end. It is one of my go-to choices in the winter.

The Chablis ended up winning this round 8-5. Its zestiness (term effectively coined, by the way!) did do a good job of plucking out some of the subtler, grassy flavours hidden in the cheese. The Paulaner matched up with the nuttiness of the cheese and its sweeter characteristics complimented the same, but the overall acidity of the wine refreshed the palate a bit more.

 

Round 2: Meat

Meat dishes, those which use red meat in particular, are regularly seen as matchers of wine: steak and Italian hams being notable examples. Nevertheless, when Ash asked my input on this round, I immediately picked out a charcuterie which I first tried, and immediately fell in love with, last Spring. Finochiona Negroni has a huge saltiness which goes along surprisingly well with liquorice and aniseed flavours that arise from the fennel seeds incorporated within. Overall, it is a satisfyingly complex sausage, but the salinity makes it seem particularly light and infinitely edible.

Beer: Tripel Karmeliet

A lovely, lifting Belgian Tripel, Karmeliet has a mellowed honeyed, vanilla sweetness that quickly progresses to a spicy, warming finish full of orange and clove-like, phenolic flavours. It is ridiculously drinkable considering its ABV (8.4%), though, and the Ricola cough drop-like finish is surprisingly endearing.

Wine: Chantaleuserie Bourgeuil

A big complex wine that took a lot of getting used to, the raw, green flavours coming out in this French red contributed to the medium body and acidity to give it a very balanced, under-ripe red fruit complex. ‘Pencil shavings’ was a key phrase suggested by both Ash and myself, though there was significant debate amongst others over the presence and meaning of such terminology.

Beer came out ahead by a marginal 6-5 (two vegetarians abstained from voting), which evened the odds at the halfway point. The Tripel Karmeliet proved soft enough to mellow the aggressiveness of the salami, but bold enough to match it with a number of complementary spicy flavours. The wine’s rougher, acidic complexion, was a more acute flavour comparison which, while not necessarily out of place, presented itself as a crescendo to the Karmeliet’s diminuendo.

 

Round 3: Veggy

The Moroccan Black Olives we chose proved to be a massive hit to the palate. Spiced with a heavy helping of Rosemary as well as who-knows-what else, the natural, dark, earthy, mushroomy characteristics seem to be similarly notched up to eleven. A salty acidity finished off the experience, though the full flavour of the olive certainly took a long time to dissipate to any appreciable degree.

Beer: Cromarty Black Hop Down

A great expression of the style, Cromarty’s Black IPA displayed a huge, resinous hop character that progressed into a full, slightly sweet malt flavour, all of which was overlaid by a dusting of roasted, charcoal notes. It is a beautiful melody of complexity, weighing in at 7.2%

Wine: Liberty School Zinfandel

Say what you will about the varied strengths of Old vs. New World wines, but I defy anyone to come up with better Zins than California. The well-made ones are the epitome of everything which American reds are known for, with huge handfuls of red berry fruits and vanilla sweetness just barely balanced by your characteristic tannins. Liberty School’s example is particularly delicious, and if you have yet to understand what the word ‘jammy’ really means when it comes to a wine, this Zin will bare everything to show you.

Once again, beer stole the show in round 3 with a tally of 9-4. While there was debate over whether Cromarty’s brew was actually able to stand up to the punch which the olives provided, the inherently earthy flavours of the beer seemed to match up with the olives in a way that the wine couldn’t. The roasted character, in particular, seemed to be the saving grace of the beer, providing the extra depth to match with all aspects of the olives.

 

Round 4: Pudding

If Christmas sales at the shops give any insight into the matter, the entire British population eats nothing but mince pies and Christmas puddings for the month of December. As mince pies were ‘so last year’ we drifted to the other option, which was absolutely loaded with all kinds of sticky ginger, raisin, caramel, brown sugar, butter, and Cointreau-like flavors. There’s no denying that it hit the spot when looking out the window at the snow/sleet combo.

Wine: Quinta St. Eufemia Fine White Port

Since the Colheita/mince pie pairing which Ash won in a landslide last year, the question of whether there was a better matching for Christmas desserts than port has significantly plagued me. As such, it is no wonder that a similar contender was brought into the ring on this occasion, and the lighter, white chocolate and orangey notes of the white port gives it a much mellower, creamier character than a red would ever manage.

Beer: De Struisse Tsjeeses Reserve 2013

Once again, I was not going to lose this pairing simply because I skimped on alcohol content. This 10% beer is De Struisse’s Christmas Belgian Strong Ale of 2013 which they then matured in Bourbon casks to give it an extra butter vanilla burst. It is a very good balance between beer and barrel, with the raisin and Christmas spice notes of the beer playing well alongside the oak and whiskey influence of the cask.

Predictably, perhaps, wine came ahead of this pairing, though by no means easily. At 7-6, this was the closest matchup of the lot. Overall, the port seemed to match, in both quality and intensity, every flavour which the pudding presented, and the same was true in reverse. Meanwhile, my suspicions on the futility of deviating from fortified wine for a holiday dessert have been largely confirmed.

 

Final scores were 26-24 in the favour of beer. One specific qualifier was voiced by a number of people at the end: comparatively the wine was often considered to be the stand-alone winner as opposed to beer, but when the two were matched with the food the scales often tipped in the favour of the other. Taking that as you will, the tasting proved, once again, to be both entertaining and inspiring – though part of that was undoubtedly augmented by my own spectacular Christmas sweater.