As the senior executive chef for Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley for more than 14 years, and now as a chef and culinary consultant for wineries and restaurants around the country, Sarah Scott has considered the interaction of food and wine more seriously than most chefs. Yet you’re not likely to ever hear Scott discussing pairings. “I don’t talk about pairing wine and food. . . . I speak about balancing instead.” This is no mere semantic substitution; Scott’s beliefs, which are based on the wine and food studies of Mark de Vere, MW, put into practice the somewhat radical notion that any wine can be served with any dish, provided the dish is “balanced.” Such balance refers to the degree of acidity and/or saltiness on one side of the taste experience, compared to the degree of sweetness and/or umami taste on the other; too much of anything skews the flavor of an accompanying wine, accentuating or reducing the perception of tannins, fruit, acidity, etc.
“The goal is really to keep the flavor of the wine intact so that you are serving it as the winemaker intended,” Scott explains. “So often wonderful wine is ruined by wonderful food, simply because the dish isn’t balanced.” Which is not to say that it isn’t delicious. Scott gives the example of Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Red Wine--Gorgonzola Butter—an undisputedly mouthwatering dish, but one so rich in umami from the beef and cheese that it could easily throw off the character of various wines. But with the addition of lemon juice, vinegar, and salt to balance taste perceptions, Scott maintains that any fine wine can be enjoyed with this dish, even a Chardonnay. All that matters is that it’s a wine you like. “Balancing the dish like this, the wine will taste the same before and after each mouthful,” claims the chef.
To learn more about Chef Scott’s approach to balancing food and wine, visit www.sarahscottchef.com
Grilled Rib-Eye Steaks with Red Wine--Gorgonzola Butter
Yield: 8 servings
Eight-ounce rib-eye steaks 8
Salt and pepper to taste
Red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, or Zinfandel) 2 cups
Red wine vinegar 2 Tbsp
Shallots, finely chopped 3 Tbsp
Garlic, minced 2 tsp
Unsalted butter, at room temperature 8 oz
Gorgonzola cheese 3 oz
Parsley, finely chopped 1 tsp
Chives, minced 1 tsp
Lemon juice 1 Tbsp
1. Season steaks with salt and pepper and bring to room temperature before grilling.
2. Combine red wine, vinegar, shallots, and garlic in saucepan; reduce to 1 tablespoon. Cool to room temperature.
3. Place butter and Gorgonzola in food processor; mix until combined. Add cooled red wine--shallot mixture. Add parsley, chives, lemon juice, and salt and pepper to taste; process until well combined. Scrape butter mixture on to plastic wrap and roll into a log shape. Refrigerate to firm.
4. Grill steaks as desired. As soon as they come off the grill, squeeze fresh lemon juice on top and place a disc of red-wine Gorgonzola butter on top of each so that the butter melts over the warm meat. Serve immediately.
Chef Sarah Scott's co-authored gorgeous "The Wild Table" cookbook was reviewed by Santé in the 2010 Anniversary Issue.