Most of us have been there. We’re at a restaurant and an item on the menu catches our eye. It seems it should go great with a glass of wine, but which one? Or perhaps we are entertaining and struggle to find the right wine to complement the meal. With so many great restaurants in the area, I went to experts in both wine and food to ask their advice. What follows is some practical advice to help simplify the process. If, after reading, you want to learn more, you could attend one of the upcoming food and wine events where the experts have already made the selections for you.
James Taylor, food and beverage director at Bluefin Bay Resort, says that when his chef comes up with a new dish, a three-person panel meets to discuss potential wine pairings. What do they look for? They taste the dish and pull flavor profiles, dominant flavors in the dish, and look for wines that would complement those flavors. Taylor advises that one should not let the wine overpower the flavor of the foods.
Chuck Corliss of North Shore Winery says that when looking for flavor profiles, “go with the sauce more than the protein.” He also believes that one should think of the whole meal when making a wine selection.
Mark Lindsey of Lutsen Resort says they think about the characteristics of their chef when purchasing wines for their restaurant. He also said the flavor of wines are greatly influence by the temperature at which it is served and by the type of glass it is served in. They serve their white wines at 45 degrees and their red wines at 62 degrees. Both he and Mindy Fredrickson at Gunflint Resort also stated that people should also drink what they like—so if you have a go-to wine, great. Fredrickson stated she is partial to lighter whites and roses in the summer.
All of the experts I interviewed agreed on the basics. The lighter and more subtle the flavorings in the meal, the lighter the wines, which would tend to be white wines. It is not necessary to always pair white wines with white meats, however. Some chicken or fish dishes may have a more robust sauce. Likewise, turkey and fixings are usually accompanied by heavier gravies and seasoned stuffing. In this case, a heavier white such as a Chardonnay would work, but so would a lighter red such as a Pinot Noir or a Syrah. The more robust the flavors of the meal—steak or venison, for example, pair well with heavier reds, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon. Spicy foods such as Thai, however, might be better paired with a sweet wine, such as a Riesling.
There is of course a great variation within varietals, so finding the one that suits you can be a challenge. Taylor suggest tasting a few wines to get it right. Wine tastings, of course, are a specialty at North Shore Winery. Of the lighter wines, Corliss says their Boundary Waters White blend is great with light foods or for sipping. Their Chardonnay is more of a food wine and could pair with turkey or duck, or any dish that has herbal flavors such as rosemary but is not spicy. Fredrickson likes their Chardonnay from Charles Krug with any of their walleye dishes.
And for those dishes with a more robust flavor, break out the red wine. At Gunflint Lodge they like the Locations Argentina Red Blend for their house-smoked prime rib. North Shore Winery’s Rock of Ages blend is made from five varieties of California grapes, which gives it a nice complexity and enough tannins for an earthy finish. This would pair well with a steak or venison. Corliss, true to his wine-making roots, is a big fan of blends. On picking wines in general he says, “Find a high-quality winery and then try their blends.”
Both Lutsen Resort and Bluefin Bay are great places to try wines. They are committed to having a large selection of wines, in a wide price range, available by the glass. Lindsey states, “If I wouldn’t drink it, we don’t sell it by the glass.”
The new ownership at Lutsen Resort has made expanding their wine list a priority. They now have over 200 labels to choose from. They have also purchased a cruvinet, a high-tech wine dispenser that enables them to offer for sale by the glass wines that they would not have before because the cruvinet preserves the wine long after the first glass has been poured.
In order to train your palate, you may wish to attend a food and wine event where the pairings have been made in advance. These feature great chefs, and a lot of thought and expertise has gone into the wine selection. Bluefin Bay is holding a Food and Wine Lover’s Weekend Nov. 1-3. Timothy Fischer, executive chef at Loews Minneapolis Hotel, is the featured chef. They will be offering wines from Johnson Brothers Wine Co. from Oregon. Chef Fischer is into foraging, and his dishes will feature mushrooms he had found and preserved this summer. He is also dedicated to using local foods. The weekend includes a four-course dinner at Bluefin Grille, a wine tasting at Surfside, and a five-course dinner at Bluefin Grille.
Lutsen Resort will offer their food and wine weekend Nov. 8-9. The theme will be Italian. Friday will feature six to eight wines and lots of hors d’oeuvres. Saturday’s event will include six courses, all paired with wines. They will also have a Whiskey and Wine weekend Dec. 6-7. Friday will consist of tastings and cocktails from Driftless Glenn Distillery in Wisconsin. Saturday’s event will feature five different vintages from Jordan Vineyards—all with the main course. A 21-year-old Scotch will be featured for dessert.
Both Gunflint Lodge and Lutsen Resort will also be offering Thanksgiving Buffets. Gunflint Lodge has invited Chef Adam Treeful to prepare their time-honored recipes such as their Pilsner slow-roasted turkey and trimmings, their Gunflint double-smoked ham with wild blueberry glaze, and a show-roasted bison haunch. Chef Chris Homyak and the culinary team at Lutsen Resort will deliver their take on the classic holiday meal as well. Either event would present a great opportunity to put your new-found wine-pairing skills to work.