A few Wednesdays ago came the exciting conclusion to all the trash-talk that built up around Dimitri Van Kampen's challenge of Wine VS Beer pairings. Dimitri, the owner of Spearhead Brewing, had publicly challenged me and wine to do battle against him and beer over a three course dinner prepared by Chef Michael Farber at Farbs Kitchen and Wine Bar. In the end the pairings spoke for themselves and I'm happy to report that wine won with a sweeping victory over beer in all three courses! It was a fun and fantastic dinner for a sold out crowd of 45 foodies and industry folk. Here is a quick rundown of the dishes and pairings with a few pictures.
The first course was trio of tartare: Salmon Gravlax with dill creme fraiche; roasted and pickled beets with goat cheese; and Scallop Ceviche. For this Dimitri brought his Hawaiian-style pale ale, which I thought had all the right flavours for the dish, but was far too powerful for the delicate seafood, beets and cheese. And because my honour was on the line and I was allowed to use any wine in the world, I had to bring my A Game. I chose a rare Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc from Domaine DeNalys, its a blend of predominantly Grenache blanc with Clairette, Bourboulenc, Roussanne, Picpoul and Picardan. Everyone is familar with Chateauneuf Red, but many don't even know Chateauneuf produces White which accounts for only 4% of the region's production. This rare Blanc a blowout; the complexity complimented all the eccentricities of this course and the votes went largely to the wine for dish #1.
The second course was a much tighter race. With Chef Farber's roast Lamb shank and vegetables with jus, Spearhead's Moroccan Spice Dark Ale paired really quite well. Frankly, I had a moment of brief nervousness and second-guessing when I tasted the dish with his beer, but luckily I brought one of the New World's most renowned Pinot Noirs: Kooyong Estate from Mornington Peninsula in Australia. While it may have been a touch light for the lamb, the high acidity, rich fruit, and dirty earthy flavours of the Pinot Noir matched really well with the same gamey flavours of the lamb and narrowly defeated Dimitri's nearly perfect beer pairing. Round two chalked up to wine.
Dish three was an Apple tartin with a caramel bacon glaze. I already often pair deserts with beer instead of wine, so this was a great opportunity for Dimitiri to win the hearts and minds of the audience as well. And Dimitri brought a fantastic desert beer...but unfortunately it was an Imperial Stout, the 'Choklat' from New York's Southern Tier Brewery. An outstanding beer in its own right and an ultimate pairing for a chocolate desert, but the 10% alcohol intense chocolatey flavour overpowered the more delicate apple fruit desert. I chose to play on the fruitier side of this dish with the 'Ancestral' from Hinterland Wine Co. in Prince Edward County. This 7% alcohol, sweet pink sparkling wine is made from 100% Gamay and was a great match playing on the similar fruit notes, crisp acidity matching that of the apples with the perfect amount of residual sugar in the wine for the caramel glaze. Had his beer pairing been something like Wapoos County Cider or Fruli fruit beer I might have been in trouble. But round three went to wine for the sweep!
Looking back on all this, Dimitri didn't really have much to lose as beer was the underdog in this scenario anyway. So by challenging me with all the trash-talk building up to the event he was able to create a platform to showcase how well beer can work with meals in a finer dining setting with an industry and foodie audience as judge and jury. Luckily for me I do these dinners regularly and have one of the best portfolios of wine in the country to draw from, so most would expect wine to win, but that also meant I had the most to lose. So overall Dimitri won too, because even though he didn't get the majority of votes on any of the courses, one came very close and the others had many votes in favour of beer. I'm sure he changed many minds that thought food pairing was left to wine alone, and that was likely his biggest goal of the night: to show beers legitimacy in dining. If he had upset wine and won the challenge that would have just been a bonus. Kudos Dimitri, well played sir.