I’ve heard and read quite a bit about food and wine pairing, but I have not had the privilege of ever taking part in one. That all changed last October 26 when Rachel Martelino, the General Manager of the Straits Wine Company Manila invited me to their food and wine pairing event.
An Introduction to Food and Wine Pairing
Food and wine pairing has been defined as the process of pairing certain dishes with certain red and white wines to enhance your dining experience. According to sommeliers (more commonly referred to as wine experts), certain elements in both the food & wine react differently with each other. This, in turn, makes your dining experience a whole lot more enjoyable. Of course, this is very subjective since the taste of one person may not necessarily be the same as another.
The Venue of the Food and Wine Pairing Event
The wine and food pairing event hosted by the Straits Wine Company was held at L’Incontro Ristorante Italiano in Makati City. The slightly dimmed amber lighting, high ceiling and large windows made the interior of this Italian restaurant in Makati an ideal venue for this food and wine pairing event. Selecting a cozy Italian restaurant for this wine event was also fitting since the wines that were going to be featured all come from a vineyard from Italy.
Instead of having small tables spread across the entire restaurant, the tables were laid out in such a way that the attendees of the food and wine pairing event get to sit in large groups. This gave the guests the opportunity to mingle with each other and talk with each other throughout the entire food and wine pairing dinner.
One of the things that really caught my eye when I arrived at the venue was the way how each of the tables were beautifully decorated. Each place setting was decorated with flowers and candles, adding more to the cozy atmosphere within the restaurant. At the center are small glass containers of what seemed to look like giant string beans and snap peas. These, I discovered, were the cleverly crafted bread sticks made by the kitchen of L’Incontro for this event.
Mingling at the Food and Wine Pairing Event
While waiting for the others to arrive, the guests already at the food and wine pairing event indulged themselves to a bit of mingling. The waiting staff here were really prompt when it comes to their service. As soon as I entered the restaurant, I was warmly greeted by one of the waiting staff and offered a glass of mojito to enjoy as I went around and checked out the restaurant.
Straits Wine Company’s Rachel Martelino came over to greet me a few minutes after I arrived. I was so flattered when she told me that me that I will be sitting with her at their table. After a brief moment of hellos, she introduced me to chef and restaurant owner Tina Pamintuan with whom I briefly chatted about her restaurant. She explained to me that the array of meals that we were going to enjoy during the food and wine pairing dinner were all customized to perfectly complement the different wines that will be served.
After my rather short chat with Chef Pamintuan, Rachel then introduced me to Anna Maria Cruciata from Val di Toro, who personally selected the different kinds of wines that will be showcased during the food and wine pairing event.
My First Food and Wine Pairing
As I made my way to take my seat, I honestly did not know what to expect. After all, this was the very first food and wine pairing event I attended and I didn’t know what to expect. That being said, I’m not trying to be a food & wine expert here. This will be, however, my account of my very first experience of food and wine pairing.
Explanation before Tasting
Food and wine pairing events, apparently, are not just elegant dinners where you get to enjoy a special menu of food & wine. I discovered that there was actually more to it.
At the start of the food and wine pairing dinner, Anna Maria Cruciata of Val di Toro stood up and told us about a brief introduction to Val di Toro wines and explained how the combination of the soil, climate and choice of grapes contributed to many of the characteristics of the different kinds of wines that were going to be sampled.
Food and Wine Pairing Courses
We were served our first course for the food and wine pairing: Mint Ricotta and Spinach “caramelle” Ravioli in Brown Butter. I found the presentation rather pretty. Instead of the traditional square-shaped ravioli I would normally find in most Italian restaurant, the one served to us during this food and wine pairing event were shaped to look like wrapped candies. The waiters also poured the first wine that we were going to sample. It was Val di Toro Auramaris Vermentino 2010, which was described as a crisp and dry white wine.
The ravioli was light and very delicious. Unfortunately, I couldn’t taste any of the mint that was mentioned in the menu. When I tried the wine, I found it rather dry and acidic. I found the acidity of the wine rather clashing instead of complementing with the light and delicate flavors of the ravioli.
For the next course, we were served a seafood dish made of prawns, octopus, clams and mussels which was served on top of Black homemade pasta, lemon zest and pomodoro sauce. We had the same wine for this one. This time, I found that the white wine complemented really well with the dish. It really brought out the clean and bright taste of the lemon and pomodoro sauce. The dish really tasted very light and quite pleasing.
Before we went to the next course, we were served a lemon sorbet to help cleanse our palate for the next dish. It was definitely a refreshing break, although I’d hope that they would have served a little bit more to really help clean the palate thoroughly.
Just like the first course, Anna stood up and gave us a little introduction of the next wine that we were going to sample. For this course, we were served their Val di Toro Reviresco 2009. This was a dry red white with a really ruby-like color. The dish that accompanied this was Wild Mushrooms served on top of a sheet of Sherry-scented organic egg pasta and served with Chestnut Cream.
This was definitely my favorite dish during the entire food and wine pairing event. The mushrooms were meaty and smelled really fragrant (I’m guessing this has something to do with the sherry-scented pasta sheet). The chestnut cream gave this dish a distinct sweetness. Combined with the bold red wine, the taste of the wild mushrooms were taken to a whole new level. They almost tasted like rich meat. It also brought out the nuttiness of the chestnut cream.
Afterwards, we were served a Sweet Potato Tortellini with Italian Sausage, Veal Jus and Amaretto Breadcrumbs that was to be paired with the same bold red wine. The wine definitely brought out the meaty flavor of the meats in the sauce while subtly lifting up the taste of the sauce. I also noticed a subtle peppery flavor at the back of my tongue as I sipped the wine.
The last of the main courses served during this food and wine pairing was Parmesan Gnocchi Dumplings served with Oxtail stew with White Truffle Oil and Fried Sage. For this dish, we were given a red 2008 Val di Toro wine. The dish tasted rather too salty for me at first. But after taking a sip of the red wine paired with this dish, I was amazed on how the red wine managed to cut down the saltiness to a point that the flavors was very well-rounded in my palate. Just like the mushroom dish, this red wine also brought out a sweet flavor that I didn’t taste before I had the wine.
For desert, we were served a Belgian White Chocolate Cheesecake with White Chocolate Shavings. This was my biggest disappointment when it came to size. Why do restaurants always serve such small servings when it comes to deserts is still a mystery to me. But that was basically how it was. After all that wine, the rich sweetness of the cheesecake was a definite welcome for me.
That was, until we were served the accompanying alcoholic beverage. Instead of a desert wine, we were served a 12-year-old Single de Samalens Armagnac. My eyes widened as my glass was placed before me. I’ve learned a bit about Armagnac from Younes during the Straits Wine Tasting event held the day before. I must admit, I was a bit scared about trying this out, mainly because I’m not really a whiskey drinker. I found myself slightly panicking after taking a whiff of the Armagnac. The strong smell of the alcohol in the Armagnac made me wonder if it would even be strong enough to fuel a small vehicle.
I managed to muster enough courage to take a sip, and I was amazed. Sure, the Armagnac is strong. But it also gave the desert a distinct and surprising nutty taste to the cheesecake. It also helped cut down the richness of the cheesecake, making this such a light and delicate way to end this food and wine pairing event.
Final Thoughts on the Food and Wine Pairing
No doubt, I enjoyed my first food and wine pairing event. I definitely learned a lot about how food & wine complement and clash with each other. I pleasantly discovered how the right wine paired with a certain dish can definitely bring out a lot of flavors in the dish that you’d not really notice if you’ll just take this with water, juice or a can of soda. I have to say, I definitely learned a whole lot more about food & wine in this event, and I am definitely looking forward to the next food and wine pairing event I come across.
I’ve heard once that the best dining experience is one where all your senses take part in making this such a pleasant event. From the aesthetics and coziness of the venue to the different dishes and wines I’ve sampled during this food and wine event, I’d definitely say that this was a feast for the senses. My many thanks go out to Rachel Martelino and the organizers of this food and wine pairing event, and congratulations on such a successful and insightful experience.