Pairings that go beyond Red Wine and Steak
Carolyn shares what tango and steak have to do with pairing experiences
I just love a thoughtful pairing of food and wine, where a symphony of flavors and textures crescendo and I am transported to a stand-still moment of bliss. I often enjoy a wonderful bottle of wine with a meal, but no matter how wonderful the wine, I don’t always get the pairing moment I hoped for.
Tango dancers experience something similar while dancing tango, when they are transported to another level of bliss, allowing themselves to connect with the dance partner and the music. This fusion of two dancers moving to tango music is known as a ‘tango moment’. Any dancer will search obsessively throughout the night, at other clubs, months on end, to experience another tango moment fix.
Just as tango dancer moves back onto the dancefloor to improve the odds of experiencing another ‘moment of connection’, whereas I just head out to the local wineries in Mendoza that serve up incredible wine and food pairing experiences.
Red meat with red wine can be considered a ‘regional pairing’, something expected in the Land of Malbec in Argentina. However, the chefs working in the wineries in Mendoza take their pairing experience to wonderful levels with textures and flavors garnishing a succulent cut of tenderloin.
To start, wine quality in Argentina has stayed consistent, rewarding us with lush tannins and ripe fruit, while new iconic wines emerge as more complex and supple. The vineyards under new management practices, produce low yields and reward us grapes with intense rich flavors and colors. Harvesting the grapes at different maturation levels throughout the ripening season also increases the complexity in flavor and acidity levels, enhancing vibrant characteristics. Winemaking equipment such as cement eggs, foudres, tapered wooden vats are found today in local wineries positioned for international impact.
Next, Mendoza is known as the agricultural garden of Argentina, where the Mediterranean climate ripens the farm fresh produce to optimal sweetness. The orchards of fruiting trees, fields of tomatoes and garlic, olive groves and vineyards are irrigated with snow-melt waters, creating a cultivated oasis in the desert-like landscape. The produce is flavorful, seasonal and with farm-to-table status. Local chefs work with the abundance of local seasonal produce when designing the seasonal tasting menus.
Finally, Argentina grass-fed beef, highly sought after on the international trade market, is back in high demand for the local ‘foodie’ culture. Despite the opportunity to purchase from a feed-lot, Argentine chefs are leading a movement to eat more naturally, selecting meatpacking companies that offer more information on the grazing cattle and their lifecycle. Many cows are raised in the humid pampas of Argentina, where pastures are plentiful alongside field crops of corn, wheat and soy. The grass-fed cows provide meat with intense flavors, deep red color and marbled fat.
With such incredible primary resources available in Argentina, its no wonder that restaurants located inside of wineries would have the best wine pairing potential. For example, El Fogon Restaurant located inside of Lagarde Winery in Lujan de Cuyo, Mendoza offers a pairing experience. Local Chef Lucas Olcese is in charge of designing the menu. He creates each dish based on ingredients available in the market, seasonal freshness and depends on high quality suppliers for meat.
Lucas has been in charge of El Fogon since it opened in 2016 and has helped generate excellent reviews and comments, placing it in the top 3 restaurants in Mendoza. Lucas purchases filet mignon, lomo, from a supplier located in La Pampa, a humid province located in the central part of Argentina.
I understand how an incredible chef will make a difference in any restaurant, but what I really appreciate at Lagarde is the attention to detail in the pairing experience.
Francisco Jurin, hospitality manager at the Lagarde winery, also oversees daily operations in the Fogon restaurant. Francisco is a food and wine aficionado, so getting involved in the pairing experience came naturally for the Sommelier-trained front-of-the-house professional. He has been at Lagarde since 2012, starting as a guide and working into hospitality management.
“The chefs will present their seasonal menu, using their creativity for what is available in the market, then I get to look at the wines that would best harmonize with each plate. Sometimes we need to adapt the ingredients in the food to make the pairing work, says Francisco. “Our methodology for the meal is to move from less to more. We begin lunch with a white wine and then build up with more elements and complexity. The star is always beef and complex red wine.”
I consider Francisco a pairing-master for his incredible ability to fuse together the elements in both a plated course and the served wine. I asked him what he took into consideration when designing the experience. “The secret” he says,” is to take into account all of the flavors, ingredients and the characteristics of the wine. There are primary flavors, secondary flavors and tertiary flavors as well as textures to consider in both food and wine. The intensity is important too. A good pairing starts with ‘a bocado perfecto’, meaning that you skewer up on a fork all of the elements on your plate, including the salsas and sauces for a harmonic moment. The experience is then enhanced when we complement it with wine, intensifying the tastes, flavors and textures. We want to provide a complete experience.”
Francisco continues on to explain that their guests’ opinions are included in the evaluation process of a new menu. “ We really listen to consumer feed-back on what is working or not after launching a seasonal menu. Our servers, chef and myself interact with our guests to find out about their experiences and adapt as needed.”
In addition to the meal, the outdoor garden experience under the massive fig trees adds to the ambiance. The show stopper, however, is when server Marcos Ortiz strolls by singing and with a big smile. He commands the audience with his youthful presence, an incredible tenor voice bellows out with harmonic notes of a tango song, carrying the mesmerized crowd with theatrical expressions and power. Marcos is a stunning Tango singer and personable, which makes him a delight to watch as whole enchanting experience concludes in one applause!