Wine lovers can spend hours debating wine-food pairings (just one reason
we are so boring to our children), and there are certain meals we
dismiss as “beer food.” These are usually spicy or cheap, and casual -
in other words, unsophisticated foods.
But beer is becoming
increasingly refined, and matching beer with food can be as subtle and
complex as wine. This point was driven home last weekend at a Wine vs. Beer Smackdown staged by the Neighborhood Restaurant Group at the Columbia Firehouse in Old Town Alexandria.
director Juliana Santos and beer sommelier Greg Santos each selected
pairings for six dishes, and about 80 guests sweltering in an upstairs
loft at the restaurant were asked to compare how each beverage fared. As
a wine lover, I was naturally biased towards Santos’s interesting
selections, which included some small-production wines offered by
top-notch importers such as Terry Theise and Jonas Gustafsson. But beer had the advantage of the unexpected.
makers are really starting to act like winemakers, and that is
resulting in beers that are fascinating to pair with food,” Engert said.
“They are regressing to pre-industrial techniques, before stainless
steel cleaned everything up for nice simple beers ideal for drinking
with wings.” those borrowed techniques include barrel aging reserve
beers, he said.
Here are my quick notes from the smack down as I pushed my way through the eager crowds at each table.
Tomato, watermelon, and sheep’s milk feta, paired with Bodegas
O’Ventosela “Vina Leirina” 2008 from Rueda, Spain, and 1809 Professor
Fritz Briem & Bayerische Staatsbrauerei Weihenstephan, Bavaria,
Germany. The beer here had an unfair advantage, in that Engert
mixed it with a splash or raspberry syrup that matched beautifully with
the watermelon. The wine tasted thin and acidic in comparison.
2. Tuna Tartare tacos, paired with Gobelsburg Riesling, 2009, Kamptal, Austria, and Hennepin Brewery Ommegang, New York.
The beer picked up nicely on the fennel and apple in the tartare, while
the Riesling jazzed with the citrusy dressing. DRAW.
Maryland Shoat Porchetta, with Belle Pente 2008 Pinot Noir, Willamette
Valley, Oregon, and Schlafly Bière de Garde, Saint Louis Brewery and
Schlafly Tap Room, Missouri. Pork and Pinot – a divine combo,
and this biodynamic wine shined with the shoat and its stuffing. The
beer actually reminded me of my home brew experiments from 15 years ago.
4. Dry aged roast beef and buttermilk
blue cheese, with Conceito Tinto, 2007, Douro, Portugal, and
Oerbier, Brouwerij de Dolle, Belgium. The beer’s richness, at
9% alcohol, matched well with the cheese, and won my wife’s vote. I
preferred the wine for how it reflected the flavors of the beef. DRAW.
Charcuterie, with Cavoletto Dolcetto d’Alba “Vigna Scot” 2007,
Piemonte, Italy, and Aecht Schlenkerla Märzen, Brauesrei Heller-Trum,
Upper Franconia, Germany. The beer was smoked, which made it
taste to me like a burnt-down house. The Dolcetto, on the other hand,
may be God’s own pairing with salami. Advantage, WINE.
6. Pecan Joy Candy Bars, with Domaine du Mas Blanc, 2007 Banyuls, France, and Coton, The Bruery, California.
This dessert was so good that the matching became incredibly fun. The
beer matched the richness of the gussied up candy bar, making me want
more, while the wine melded seemlessly with the fruitier aspects of the
coconut and the chocolate, signalling that the meal was over. Since I
finished mine with the beer, I had to have another dessert. That one, I
finished with the wine. DRAW.
So I guess I give a slight
advantage to the wine in this contest, which given my bias may be
expected. But I would gladly place my beverage selection in the hands of
either Santos or Engert after enjoying the thoughtful and challenging
selections for this wine-beer smack down.
Now, where was Bobby