A question I’m frequently asked is how I pair wine to The Orangery’s Executive Head Chef, Richard Allen’s menu. Some in the industry are calling it ‘the dark art’ of being a Sommelier. Well, almost. There are elements of chemistry involved that together with some gentle questions to your guests go a long way.
The Food: Red to meat and white to fish. A very old mantra that is obsolete to an extreme! When you choose a wine to match a dish it is not only the main element that you are looking at. It is the different elements on the plate and the Jus. When you try the different elements they come together as the Chef wants, and there lies your pairing. The magic is to find a wine that has a significant difference before and after trying the food. Also, if some of the element on the plate tastes a bit different with wine involved, even better.
The Wine: As a Sommelier you want a wine that works alongside the dish, but does not overtake it. You want it to create a symbiosis with the food and enhance the experience. It is great when you find a wine that is quite timid on the first taste, but after the guests have tasted the food and return to the wine, it is completely different. It has woken up and gives so many more flavours.
I want to take our guests on a journey during a wine flight. A journey that starts quite mellow before you introduce more sensorial wines, to build up to the crescendo of the last wine. Just as Chef, Richard Allen, is doing with his tasting menu. The trick is to find wine from different parts of the world, different grape varieties, different wine making skills and wines that are unusual with quality. (I’m afraid this involves quite a lot of tastings!) This is where ‘the dark art’ is working. I also always ask my participating guests if there is any grape variety they dislike at the beginning of the meal. The answers always give you an indication of where their palate is. Perhaps I need to tweak one or two wines to ensure I give the ultimate wine flight to my guests. The more you listen to your guests the better.
It is always a joy when my guests want me to write down the wines they had during the meal, and quite often I get the question of where they can purchase the bottles. Sadly for them, most of the wines I love to pair with Richard’s tasting menus are from small, artisan vineyards. Luckily they fit the menu and they have a good story to tell and that is the second most important element of a wine pairing. The story telling of the wines. When they are that good, why not tell a little about it instead of just appearing and quickly disappearing from the tables? Many of my guests have booked wine tasting in my cellar after having a wine flight in The Orangery, just to get more detailed information about wine
See you in the cellar.
Daniel Jonberger, Head Sommelier.