This week’s food and wine pairing focuses on one of summer’s most delicious treasures; the melon. Its succulently sweet flesh and perfumy aroma sets the perfect backdrop for another of the food world’s most delicious offerings; ham! The combination of sweet, juicy melon and salty, fatty ham is truly a magical experience for the mouth. This combination is classic, and for good reason, it’s freaking delicious!
Executive Chef Matt Varga prepared a salad of various melons with salty ham, whipped ricotta, cucumbers, and garden herbs. It’s featured as the first course on the current chef’s tasting menu.
When thinking about wines to pair with specific dishes, there are rules to follow. Are the food and wine balanced in body, acidity, intensity of flavor, and sweetness? If not, something is going to overwhelm the other. Also, are the flavors complementary without being too matchy-matchy? A wine pairing must be refreshing after a bite of food but do so without upsetting the flavors in the food. The food should play off the wine in an equally beautiful way. It’s a balancing act and when it is done right, everything tastes better and everything makes sense.
The flavors in this dish are very straight forward. Salty ham and fruity melon are accented with the subtle flavors of fresh mint and hyssop, refreshing cucumber, and a creamyness from the ricotta. The flavors are so perfect together that the addition of a wine with too much contrast will overcomplicate the whole experience and literally leave an unpleasant taste in your mouth.
Choosing a wine
What wine has enough sweetness, freshness, fruitiness, and juiciness to refresh the palate after a bite of this already refreshing salad? Well, Riesling, obviously. And not just any riesling, seek out a German Spatlese Riesling. The term “spatlese” denotes the ripeness of the grapes when they are harvested. A German Spatlese Riesling is sweet but not so sweet that you should reserve it exclusively for dessert. They bridge the gap between dry wines and dessert wines. This level of sweetness makes them a perfect pairing for foods that similarly live somewhere between sweet and savory.
When I drink the wine with the food, the wine acts as sort of a dressing for the salad. The German Spatlese Riesling is tart and bursting with flavors of grapefruit, yuzu, and a beautiful underlying minerality that balances out the fruit flavor with a clean flinty finish. This minerality adds a subtle extra layer to the flavor profile of the wine taking it from basic and straight forward fruity to dynamic and complex.
That flinty, slate, wet river rock minerality also enhances the melon in the same way it does the fruit flavor in the wine. It does not overwhelm the delicious flavor of the melon, rather, another subtle layer of flavor adds a delicate complexity to the entire experience. The citrus flavors in the wine add an extra burst of freshness to the flavors of the melon. Again, the wine doesn’t overpower the food, instead, the flavors in the dish are enhanced by the wine.
Balancing the German Spatlese Riesling
It is important to keep the sweetness level of the wine balanced with the sugar in the food. Otherwise, one will seem incredibly sweet and the other will seem nearly flavorless. Balance is key.
There is more to this salad than melon so the other components must also be given an opportunity to sing. This is where contrasting flavors come into play. The ham adds a saltiness and savory flavor, while the herbs bring a pop of freshness and complexity. The wine then adds another level of complexity that enhances the flavors in everything.
When you reflect on your favorite flavor combinations, there is a balance of flavors that creates complexity and makes the food interesting and delicious. Barbeque, for example, combines the sweetness and tang of the sauce, the smoke from the fire, and the savory flavor of the meat to create a deliciously complex balancing act of perfection.
Chocolate and sea salt is another example, this time there is bitterness, saltiness, and sweetness. It’s all about contrasting just the right amount to create an end product that is interesting and delicious. The examples are as limitless as delicious foods.
This is a call to everyone to think about what you drink with your food. A little bit of extra thought and planning will enhance your dining experience. It will help you to explore wines and or foods that you might not consider as part of your culinary repertoire. Explore, grow, learn, excite and enjoy.