Updated: Apr 3
Have you ever wondered why a food pairing works? Some, arguably, have been handed down to us like Stilton and Port, others are an example of what “grows together, goes together” like Sancerre and goat cheese, and some express a similar characteristic like Chablis and oysters – being a beautiful marriage of salinity. One sommelier took this question and ran down the rabbit hole of curiosity and explored the “why” - on the molecular level. François Chartier was the sommelier collaborator for the 2009-2010 menu at the world-famous El Bulli in Roses, Spain. El Bulli was a pinnacle of fine dining; revolutionary in its approach to the science of culinary creativity, it became regarded as the epicenter of molecular gastronomy. What the chef brought to the food, François Chartier brought to his wine pairing approach. I stumbled across his wine pairing book Taste Buds and Molecules while preparing for the Master Sommelier Theory exam and thought it a wonder of wine geek wizardry that frankly blew my mind. In honor of Spring and warmer weather - let’s delve into the key pairing that began his trip down the rabbit hole – Sauvignon Blanc with dishes featuring herbs and root vegetables.
Inspired by a meal that utilized mint as a key herb and served with sauvignon blanc, he asked himself why “cold tasting” foods that provide a cooling sensation in the mouth go well with wines like a crisp sauvignon blanc. If you are enjoying wine as you read this, pour yourself a glass now as there are about to be a few scientific names following and the wine will help. . . He found that herbs with almost mint or anise-like notes fell into three scientific plant families – Apiaceae (chervil and fennel), Asteraceae (tarragon), and Lamiaceae (basil and peppermint). Within these families, there were basic chemical compounds that all have noticeable anise/mint aromatics like anethole (green anise, green basil, chervil, fennel), R-carvone (mint), S-carvone (caraway), estragole (anise, basil, tarragon, fennel, apple), eugenol (Thai Bail, green basil, cloves), apignen (parsley), and menthol (basil, fresh coriander, fennel, mint, and root vegetables).
He began experimenting with the ingredients above by creating dishes and pairing them with dry, young, and unoaked white wines like sauvignon blanc, verdejo, albarino, chenin blanc, and more. Pairing a salmon confit with parsley oil and fresh fennel or a goat cheese sandwich with thinly sliced green apples, fennel, cucumber, and fresh mint or wasabi with these wines yielded wildly successful results as the aromatics of the food complemented the cool tones of the wines. At this point, I am eager for the fresh salmon season and have already added goat cheese to this week’s shopping list.
Chartier goes on to explore cool reds (that have notes of anise), the impact on wine by the type of oak barrel used in terms of vanilla and clove notes, how strawberries and pineapple are often interchangeable in recipes due to similar aromatic molecular notes, thyme is an ideal herb to pair with lamb as it shares the same key aromatic component – thymol, white wines to complement the heat of hot peppers (it’s not just riesling - a California viognier or marsanne from the Rhone could even do the trick), and so much more. There is a whole fascinating world to delve into.
What is left for us to do is to grab the spring ingredients, a handful of friends, and a bevy of young, unoaked, and crisp white wines to put his work to the test. Cheers to Spring, exploration, and perfect pairings!