Ben Bryant is chief winemaker for the prestigious Wyndham Estate winery in Australia's Hunter Valley. Among his many duties, he is touring the world to inform and inspire wine lovers, cooks and restaurateurs. Last week, the affable Aussie touched down briefly in Ottawa and shared some thoughts on wine and food pairing.
Q: Many people seem to becoming increasingly food savvy; is the same thing happening with wine?
A: Yes, although there is a bit of a stigma with wine in that people are sometimes fearful of making what they perceive to be bad selections; they feel they don't understand wine. I like to tell people to relax! Wine should be all about fun and exploration, just as food is.
Q: Have you set out to deliberately make food-friendly wines?
A: Not specifically, but I would say our wines are indeed food-friendly. All our Bin wines are about an original taste with good balance and a good fruit presence. Our Bin 222 Chardonnay, for example, is not heavily oaked; the oak is just a restrained, background element that adds a nice bit of interest.
Q: Have we progressed from the old approach of "white with fish and poultry, red with red meat"?
A: That perception still exists, and for some valid reasons as it is true that the delicacy of some flavours does work better with certain wine styles. However, I always encourage people to challenge the boundaries when it comes to wine and food. It's fun and unusual matches that can often yield wonderful surprises.
Q: Can you give us an example of a non-traditional pairing?
A: At the winery we play around a lot with food; our chef recently created an unusual salmon dish with a nice heavy jus made of red wine, cranberry and orange, accompanied by blanched spinach. We chose to pair it with our Bin 555 Shiraz and it was outstanding. People rarely think of red wine with fish but it can work really well.
Q: What advice can you offer to home cooks about wine and food matches?
A: It's important to pay attention to the seasonings, rather than the protein itself. Let the flavours of the dish be the driver when it comes to the wine. With dishes that have a bit of grease (roast duck or pork, for example), make sure the wine has enough texture to work through the grease. Also think about freshening your sauces with lemon or lime - the citrus really lightens the sauce and helps it work better with many wines. Lastly, it's good to avoid high acid dishes with high acid wines (a tomato sauce and a Riesling just wouldn't work).
Q: What's the best way for people to develop their palates and learn more about the art of wine and food pairing?
A: Simple. The more wine you put in your mouth, the more you can learn. Take advantage of tasting opportunities, winemakers' dinners and read about food and wine. As I mentioned, it's all about the fun of exploring and trying new things. That's a big part of why I love my job.