Quail on the plate

October 26, 2005

I did a tasting last night at Mise (their own website is coming soon). We called the tasting “Flights of Fancy”, and the premise was to introduce their new flights of wine. We ended up pairing seven wines off their list with some fabulous food. One pairing in particular was really interesting.

The menu item was quail stuffed with hot Italian sausage, pine nuts and sun-dried tomatoes. We paired it with one white and one red – the Cave Spring 2002 VQA Chardonnay and the Pasqua ‘Lappacio” Primitivo di Salento. My reasoning was that I’ve enjoyed richer Chardonnays with game birds before, and I thought that the Primitivo would play off well against the slight gaminess of the quail and the spice of the sausage.

Initially, the Chardonnay seemed a bit tired. It’s actually 82% Chardonnay and 18% Chardonnay Musque (a Chardonnay/Muscat hybrid). There was a hint of floral aromas, and it was a bit lighter than expected. But it took on some muskiness after a few minutes in the glass. I wasn’t so impressed and initially ended up writing it off as a bad choice on my part. Cave Spring is usually an excellent vineyard, so I just thought this one didn’t have a long lifespan.

On the other hand, the Primitivo showed beautifully at first. Lots of blackberry and plum aromas, with a long finish that reminded one of the participants of stewed prunes (in a good way). So most of us (myself loudly included) figured it would be a good match with the food.

Then the food came out and I quickly proved myself wrong. The Chardonnay was fantastic with the quail. It took on a rich, buttery flavour which paired perfectly with the gaminess of the quail. Even the rich sausage and pine nut flavours were excellent complements to the wine. My perception of the wine changed completely once I tried it with the food.

On the other hand, the poor Primitivo didn’t fare well at all. Without the food, I loved it. But paired with the quail, it seemed to wilt in the glass, took on floral characteristics and ended up drinking like a low-rent Beaujolais. Quite a difference from what my first impressions were.

So the moral of the story? You can make all the assumptions you want, but be prepared to change your mind once you actually pair a wine up with food. Don’t write off a poor choice immediately, and don’t take a good choice for granted. Don’t get me wrong – the Pasqua is a fabulous wine. It just wasn’t the right wine for this dish.

The flights of wine at Mise are priced between $3.00 and $5.00. You get a smaller pour for a lower price, but by the same token, you can try several different wines before settling on the one you like best. I wish more restaurants would do this. It gives the customer some more room to explore the wine list, and they will usually end up spending more on wine. And for people who are driving, or would just prefer a small glass of wine, it allows them to enjoy the restaurant’s wine as well.

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