Dan and Cris Willett of Willett's Winery & Cellar in Manito demonstrated food and wine pairing at the Buy Local, Eat Healthy seminar, part of the just-concluded annual conference of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association at the Crowne Plaza hotel.
I felt like I was in the audience of “The Oprah Winfrey Show” when the staff swooped through the room, offering everyone samples of food and wine from oversized round trays.
First up: pork shanks in barbecue sauce, plus black and red raspberries, served with Leon Millot, a dry red wine. The wine, surprisingly, complemented both the spicy meat and the fresh fruit.
“The wine has berry flavors and acidity to help cut through the fat of the meat,” explained Dan Willett, owner with his wife, Cris, of Willett’s Winery & Cellar in Manito, Ill.
The couple was demonstrating food and wine pairing at the Buy Local, Eat Healthy seminar, part of the just-concluded annual conference of the Illinois Specialty Growers Association at the Crowne Plaza hotel.
“When people start drinking wine, they usually like sweet wine. As they drink more, they tend to favor a dry wine,” Cris said.
The Willetts opened their business in April 2006 and now have 2,500 grapevines, including Chambourcin, Chardonel, Frontenac, Leon Millot, St. Croix, Seyval Blanc, Traminette, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles. They also have a 41/2-acre apple orchard, and some of that fruit winds up in their wine.
Next up: Samples of honey-cured ham, plus Roma tomatoes with mozzarella and fresh basil, served with Frontenac, a red, acidic wine. Again, the wine, with some mixed berry flavors, enhanced the fatty meat, creamy cheese and fresh tomatoes.
Suggestions from the Willetts on food and wine pairing:
- Think about the dominant characteristics of the meal or dish. Is it mild (fish) or flavorful (pepper steak)? Fatty (prime rib) or lean (chicken)? Rich (cream sauce) or acidic (vinaigrette)?
- Select a wine based on those food characteristics. Match mild foods with mild wines and flavorful foods with flavorful wines. Or match the richness of the food with the richness of the wine (chicken in cream sauce with a hearty Chardonnay).
- Cleanse the palate with tannins or acids. Tannins, an astringent in red grape skins and seeds, strip fat from the tongue. So if you’re eating a fatty dish (beef steak), look for a red wine with good tannins.
- Match acids with acids. Pair acidic foods (lemon chicken) with an acidic wine.
- Beware of rich cream sauces and acidic wines. It’s like mixing milk and lemon juice.
- Consider the geographic region of the dish. When in doubt, match Italian food with an Italian wine or Spanish food with a Spanish wine. Similarly, Illinois wines go well with foods grown in this state, Cris said.
To demonstrate these guidelines, servers with trays descended once again on the audience. This time, there were beef snack sticks, plus brie cheese with caramelized onions, along with Apple Splash, a Jonathan-tart apple table wine with notes of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Again, the wine embellished all of the flavors.
Cris Willett emphasized that guidelines for food and wine pairing are merely suggestions and should be ignored if they don’t produce a pleasant result for the diner.
“Drink what you like,” she said. “There’s no point in drinking wine if you don’t like it.”
Kathryn Rem can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.