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Adam & Stef – January 19, 2011Posted in: Events, Featured

This weekend, I participated in the first Wine Ride, a series of wine pairing challenges at different Austin locations,  and my team witnessed firsthand the thought and creativity that goes into every food and wine pairing.  Think of the Wine Ride as an “Amazing Race” for foodies.  Five teams, each consisting of a Sommelier (or Somm), photographer, tweeter (or facilitweeter), and blogger competed in the race.

fino_02-150x150-1Our team consisted of our Somm, Scott Barber of Centennial Fine Wine & Spirits in Dallas; photographer, Jo Ann Santangelo, Jo Ann Santangelo Photography; facilitweeter, Marshall Jones, the ED of the Wine and Food Foundation of Texas (and our race driver for the day!); and me, Adam Brower, blogger.  The race began with the reveal of our team’s 4 destinations:

Each destination offered several plates (up to 6) and a couple bottles of wine.  The Somm’s job was to taste each plate and the different wines, and select the best pairing.  All of the wines were part of the Becky Wasserman collection, so we knew we were dealing with quality wines.  The rest of the team did their thing — clicked, tweeted, and typed to capture all that was happening.  Patrons at each of the locations sat tableside to hear the Somm do their thing.  After all, the Somms true purpose is to improve the dining experience of all involved.  The chefs at each of the locations had a bit of fun too, doing their best to stump the talented Somms, but in the end, I think the Somms were up to the challenge.

You can see the other Somm’s perfect pairings and vote for your favorite at  And hopefully, if you enjoy this post, you can vote for it at  The winning Somm wins a spot to compete in Somms Under Fire and the team with the winning blog post will win all access media badges to Somms Under Fire.

Here were Scott’s top picks for the day.

Central Market Foreign & Domestic (Savory) Foreign & Domestic (Sweet) Antonelli’s Cheese Shop FINO
Wine 2008 Simon Bize Bourgogne Blanc Les Champlains 2007 Jean Noel Gagnard Chassagne-Montrachet L’Estimée N.V. Paul Berthelot Champagne Brut Reserve Premier Cru 2008 Domaine d’Ardhuy Ladoix Rouge Les Chagnots Monopole 2008 Domaine d’Ardhuy Bourgogne Rouge
Dish Roast Chicken with Polenta Corn Cake Lacquered Quail on a Potato Purée with Grilled Celery Blood Orange Sorbet with Hazelnuts Tomme Crayeuse Jamon Serrano Croquettes with Smoked Salt

As we listened to Scott describe the plates, wines, and details of his perfect pairings, I knew there was much more going on than the simple “white wine with seafood, red wine with meat”.

All photography on this post courtesy Jo Ann Santangelo Photography

For lengths sake, I will not take you through the more than 25 pairings, but I do want to give you a taste of what was considered.

PAIRING #1 – “Fino was about texture and surprise”

As we parked at Fino, we ran up the stairs and into the restaurant – we only had 10 minutes at each location, so we had to hurry.  Four plates were present and Scott immediately noticed that the pork would most likely be the lightest dish, the short ribs would pair better with a bold wine that is typically better during this time of year, and the croquettes which would go best with acidity to help clean up the spices.   Scott then moved on to the pork belly noting that a high acid would be needed to cut and balance the fat.

PAIRING #2 – “Central Market Cooking School was where the dish elevated the wine to be better than it was by itself”

Here it became apparent that the chefs were out to give the somm a run for their money.  Six plates were presented and they had the intent to trip the somm up.  Scott dug into a halibut dish and noted that the white chardonnay would be a classic pairing.  But this was not about making that classic pair, but making that perfect pair.  The salmon was plated on top of asparagus, which is always a warning sign for a somm as asparagus is particularly hard to pair.  Scott noted that it would clash with a chard, but typically works well with a Gruner.  Ultimately it was the roast chicken pair with the chard that deserved the perfect pair, enhancing the carmelization from the chicken and roasted corn.

PAIRING #3 – “F&D Savory was flavor matching and attenuating the strong herbatiousness of the grilled celery and pesto”

Here three savory plates were presented and yet again, there was intent to play with the mind of the somm.  Scott first tried the soup, stating soups are never easy to pair for its liquid and liquid – and texture should always be considered just as much as flavor.   Next was ravioli on top of Brussels sprouts – yet another flag for a somm.  We then moved on to the Quail with pesto where the acid in the pinot was able to cut through the carmelled base and earning this sitting’s perfect pair.

PAIRING #4 – “F&D sweet was the structure of acid/sweetness along with the toasted nuts echoing each other in the dessert and wine”

Next F&D presented 3 sweet plates to be paired.  Scott knew he had to be careful of the common misperception that all deserts go with champagne.  However, the blood orange sorbet had a tartness and acidity that balanced out its own sweetness allowing the champagne to easily get behind it.  The nuts also tied into the toastiness of the champagne and this won the session’s perfect pair.

PAIRING #5 – “Antonelli’s was pure hedonism where both great individual items struck a big power chord when put together”

Finally, we ended up at Antonelli’s Cheese Shop for the classic wine and cheese pairing showdown.  Six cheeses were presented and yet another common misperception that only reds work with cheese. As Scott began to sample, he recognized the deep colored burgundy was not only very tasty but was dealing with the fat and acid like a hand and glove.  The soft cheeses were leaning more towards the white wine and the hard cheeses were leaning towards the red.  But it was the Tomme Crayeuse with the burgundy, that not only jumped up and yelled this is it!  But it was sensational enough to make it Scott’s ultimate pair.

Not wanting to leave Antonelli’s, we had to make it back to Uchiko, the place of origin and finish line, to present the pairings.  Scott presented his case for the pairings at each location and finally revealed, as if a no brainer, the Tomme Crayeuse and Ladoix worked with each other very well and ultimately won Scott’s overall pick of the entire Wine Ride.

This was a fun, exciting and very enlightening event.  As I listened to Scott describe the plates and the wines, I saw the intangible art that took place in his mind as he conceptualized and skillfully decided on the pairing.

Fine food is complex.  Wine is complex.  Understanding how to bring the two together is something most of us will never master.  Thankfully there are sommeliers to help us. Their knowledge will help de-mystify the process of the selection as well as steer you away from common myths.  They are not at a restaurant to push you into an expensive wine you don’t really want but rather to truly enhance your experience.  And that experience can only be made with the perfect pairing.

-Team 3, Wine Ride 2011

Now go vote for us!