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It takes character, balance for a perfect match

As is custom, before every quarterly master class, representatives from Gibbston Valley Winey sit down to orchestrate the focal point of these casually insightful events, showcasing a harmonious marriage of wine and food.

These sit downs are a conversation among friends, including restaurant Chefs from whichever local venue the next master class will be hosted, to collaborate on the best way to combine each of their crafts.

While the process sounds nothing short of delicious, there are disagreements and much deliberation that goes into a culinary engineering session like this.

With Gibbston Valley’s next Master Class, Bubbles and Bluffs, focusing on the region’s top sparkling wines and seafood, designing the perfect menu was a matter of balance and character. Bubbles and Bluffs will be on Sunday the 26th of April at Wild Ginger in Queenstown. 

Table Talk

This sit down took place at Wild Ginger and included Gibbston Valley Wine Club Manager Jeremy and Gibbston Valley Events Manager Alex Griffith and the restaurant’s manager, Davide. Their table was set with seven different Kiwi sparkling wines, pens and blank notebooks—not a bad night out. 

Once seated, the brain trust of three began the slow process of familiarising themselves with each sparkling wine. The conversation was sparse as the three men each tried to contain any excited outbursts of observation that might cast a shadow on the other’s interpretation of the structure and character of the wine. 

Tasting for them, doesn’t stop at a sip. It’s a process that includes scratching out notes on the level of acid and residual sugar, amount of extended lees contact and varietal make-up of each wine. These are the metrics that will underwrite the bond between the soon-to-be-discussed food menu. 

After each of the seven sparkling wines were tasted, with the specs juxtaposed to actual impressions, the group started the process of sharing their findings. As they extended their personal opinion of each wine, one word was mentioned repeatedly: balance.

Relating to wine, this term refers to an equilibrium point where the sharp and often structurally linear edge of the acid is amplified by the sugar, not buried beneath it. Though the technical specs can provide a strong indication of this, one can only ever know by the perceptive cataloguing that is taste.

According to Gibbston Valley’s Cellar Door motto, “Wine is the only thing in the world where everyone is right.”

Next, it’s time to introduce the food - potential menu items that either spark conversation or prove themselves as an instant match.

At this sit down, the food arrived spontaneously. Deep-fried brioche topped with shredded chicken and a healthy slab of taleggio was the first plate tasted. 

bubbles bluffs blog

It was paired with Quartz Reef Brut NV. The resonance of that bite with the wine, must have been the result of divine intervention. It was simply perfect.

The pairing played off the buttery, sweet nose of the wine and the crunchy texture and creamy notes of the food.

Excited to have created the first union, the conversation bubbled and the food kept coming, but not every match was the same instant hit. When it comes to pairing wine and food, it’s not easy to determine a match as complete when the ideal balance is abstract and intimately subjective.

Democracy of Taste

In such a personal subject as taste, it’s hard to swallow the following underlying philosophical query easily: if something is balanced does it inherently lack character?

This question must be answered in private for only one’s reactions may judge. Character is the essence of identity and if a pairing of two different substances (food and beverage) is one of harmony, does this union take on a new meaning that is greater than its individual parts?

Furthermore, does harmony drown out the personality (texture, taste components, etc.) of the combined pieces of the pairing in a way that leaves them biding their time in complacency and utterly lacking in a sense of place—or taste—that is a unique, uncompromising identity?

In the end, the trio arrived at a very, very sound tasting menu that features salmon sashimi, two different preparations of Bluff oysters, baked salmon with smoked salmon powder sprinkled on top, scallops topped with smoked gouda and prosciutto, and of course, blue cod.

Though the experience was one that championed the uncertainty of a blank page and produced a menu that features some of the South Island’s most beloved seafood delicacies and sparkling wines, there is an obvious take away that probes at the foundation of creating the perfect pairing between wine and food. There is certainly no democracy of taste. 

You can join in the conversation of balance and character and judge for yourself at the Bubbles and Bluffs Master Class Sunday, the 26th of April at 4.30 at Wild Ginger. 

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