One of my all-time favorite wines is Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs NV ($18.95) from Sonoma. From the enticing and elegant rose-colored label to the equally enticing and elegant rose-colored bubbly inside, this wine is a smash every time I serve it. Still, I hadn’t realized just how versatile a glass of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs can be until I attended a Panache soirÃ©e last weekend (see Dining, p. 32).
At the soirÃ©e, Panache’s wine experts Vicky Martinez and Jon Engen chose Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs to serve with three very different dishes: a halibut croquette amuse bouche, lamb T-bone marinated in balsamic vinegar and then a mixed-green salad topped with braised quail and pear confit and maple vinaigrette. At first glance, I concluded that at least one and maybe two of the pairings was a mismatch. I couldn’t imagine serving lamb with sparkling wine and wasn’t too keen on the notion of drinking bubbly with a quail salad either.
But, as certified international wine judge Jon Engen promised, the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs morphed from course to course to match the various dishes it was paired with. Or more accurately, different food flavors and textures illuminated a range of equally different flavors and characteristics of the wine. It served as a perfect example of a good wine’s chameleon-like nature: It can bend and flex and change when enjoyed with different foods.
Of course, that doesn’t mean that any wine can go with any food, or that all wines can pair with all foods. But it’s fascinating to observe how one wine can slightly (or even dramatically) change from food course to food course, yet still retain its essential character. Actually, it shouldn’t be too surprising. After all, Kool-Aid and coffee both bring out different characteristics of a donut, and vice-versa. Why should wine be any different?
As Engen suggested at the Panache dinner I attended, it’s not always the goal to find a perfect food and wine match. Sometimes'especially at home, where we might just want to open one bottle of wine for dinner'what we’re looking for is versatility. We’d like to find a wine that can handle diverse flavor terrain. Too often, that means an innocuous all-purpose wine, but sometimes it can mean a truly well crafted wine like the Gloria Ferrer.
Here’s why I think it worked: Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs is made from 8 percent Chardonnay and 92 percent Pinot Noir, as well as a tiny bit of Vin Gris blended into the base cuvee. The Chardonnay’s lemon flavors were drawn out by the halibut amuse bouchÃ©. So far, so good. But I fully expected the Ferrer to fizzle next to a lamb T-bone. What I hadn’t anticipated was that the Pinot Noir in the sparkling wine'it does make up 92 percent, after all'would come to the rescue and pair wonderfully with the lamb! It was as if the wine'which is essentially a sparkling RosÃ©'had gone from white to red in one course. Brilliant!
With a quail-topped salad, the Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs morphed into a RosÃ©'the lemon Chardonnay flavors wonderfully balancing the salad’s acidity, vanilla highlights from the Vin Gris working wonders with Maxwell’s maple vinaigrette, and the Pinot Noir providing enough rich fruit to work well with the braised quail and pear confit. I’d always loved this wine with food before but never quite knew why.
I’m not sure I’d be willing to serve a glass of Gloria Ferrer Blanc de Noirs next to a charred steak from the grill. On the other hand, you never know until you try. And half the fun of wine and food pairings is discovering friends that you might have thought to be foes'like lamb and California sparkling wine.