The Wine Artist Food and Wine Pairing Competition: It’s ALL in the Sauce

By Robin Dohrn Simpson

Robin%20Dohrn-Simpson-45Robin Dohrn-Simpson is a San Diego freelance writer. When not sitting at her desk she can usually be found exploring the corners of San Diego or the world. Her passions include wine, food, adventure travel, exercise and scrapbooking.  Robin is a member of the International Food, Wine and Travel Writers Association. To see where she is currently exploring check out her website at:

The Wine Artist
Food and Wine Pairing Competition
It’s ALL in the Sauce

DSC02312_Team SpiritTeam building exercises come in many variations. MJ Hong, proprietor of The Wine Artist in Lake Forest, California, has a great version of how to help people work together as a team and reach success–cook together in the kitchen. Through her Iron Chef competitions, groups of many sizes, businesses or even families can come together in her kitchen and participate in a friendly competition using a “Secret Ingredient” as the unifying element.

DSCF3883_1252 Dish 2 _ 200One fine Sunday in September, the Wine Review Council met to try their hand at a friendly competition. The goal, besides team building, was to create two appetizer dishes to pair with a Sauvignon Blanc and a Cabernet from Uproot Wines of Napa. Names were drawn out of a bag, aprons (white or black) were donned and the friendly banter began. Our secret ingredient– Corn.

In our wine review councils we have found that some foods meant to pair with certain wines don’t always pair with those intended wines. We are constantly surprised and delighted that a certain ingredient did better with another wine than the “standard” pairing. For example: typically red wine pairs with gorgonzola cheese or a steak and white wine pairs well with fruit, or chicken or turkey. Today we were about to learn that this isn’t always true.

DSCF3904_1270_250_Artist kitchenWith 45 minutes on the clock, teams brainstormed ideas (we couldn’t use any recipes) and then scrambled to find the typical ingredients for our white and red wines. Halfway through the competition, that clever MJ Hong, stopped the clock and ordered us to switch kitchens, figure out what the other team was doing, restarted the clock and left us with our jaws half open in utter surprise.
What were they making over here? What is this sauce for? Time to regroup and brainstorm and figure out a new plan. No time to complain.

DSC02415_Uproot winesUproot winemakers are self-proclaimed troublemakers in the Napa wine scene. Their intent is to “reimage winemaking to create a fresh, modern, energized experience for a new generation of wine drinkers”. By tweaking their winemaking techniques, they are creating different flavor profiles for their wines. For example: the winemakers aged a Sauvignon Blanc in oak for 9 months giving the wine a creamy flavor as opposed to a crisp, fruity flavor of wine aged in stainless steel. And it worked. The wine is delicious.

DSC02324_RobinLet me explain. Here’s what was intended and then what ended up being the pairings.

Our first wine, a 2011 Napa Valley Cabernet, is a classic full-bodied Cabernet with dark fruit flavors such as raspberry and blackberry. $78.00

Our second wine, a 2011 Napa Valley Gray Edition Sauvignon Blanc, aged in oak, this wine had all the fruitiness of a Sauvignon Blanc, with a creamy finish. $42.00

DSCF3878_1247_finished dish 200We mixed and matched our pairings so that a change in the sauce would make the appetizer go with either a red or a white.

Turkey meatballs with corn, originally with a spicy red sauce for the Cabernet, also available with a fruit salsa with mango for the Sauvignon Blanc.

Turkey tacos with corn, originally with a white sauce for the Sauvignon Blanc, ended with tomato and avocado salsa for the Cabernet.

Chorizo tacos with lettuce and an apricot salsa- intended for the Cabernet, paired nicely with the Sauvignon Blanc.
Polenta with Gorgonzola- intended for the Sauvignon Blanc, paired nicely with the Cabernet.

DSCF3892_1260_Trio Shot_200What we learned is that you can take a foundation food and switch the sauces and it will pair nicely with the opposite wine. Food meant for pairing with red wine was perfect for pairing with white wine. It’s all in the sauces.
The highlight of this competition was how great the teambuilding experience was. Sure, there was the usual banter between teams, but in actuality everyone was valued for their input. Everyone served a purpose, even if it was just to chop, slice and dice. We left with full bellies, and a higher appreciation for each other.
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