In addition, crisp acidity cuts through fat in food and balances salt (in fact, salt helps reduce the sensation of acidity in wine as well as reducing bitterness in food such as tannin). So, acid is our friend and after a recent level two course in New York with a great group of students who asked a lot of questions about wine and food pairing I decided to put the teaching to the test.
Our New York classes are held at City Winery in the SoHo neighborhood, and a short walk from the winery there is a wonderful restaurant called The Clam. I had heard about the restaurant and was eager to try it, and I’m happy to say it exceeded my already high expectations. The Clam is a neighborhood seafood bar, a sort of upscale bistro that has a small wine list filled with interesting selections.
If there is one classic wine I turn to frequently in class to demonstrate food and wine pairing, it is Chablis, the quintessential un-oaked chardonnay from close to the fringe of Europe’s grape growing region. Chablis is bone dry, has high acidity and no oak at all to bring tannin into the mix. Seeing a Chablis on the list at The Clam, I asked for a taste. It was a very well made, village-level Chablis from the husband and wife winemaking team of Nathalie and Gilles Fèvre. Surprisingly, the acidity of this wine was slightly softened by letting it go through malolactic fermentation, but it lost none of its sunny crispness, nor did it have unwelcome dairy notes or unnecessary weight. It was a charming wine on its own, but how would it fare with the classic pairing of oysters?
Chablis and oysters are a marriage made in wine heaven and clearly blessed by Bacchus. The flinty, steely nature of a good Chablis like this one from the Fèvres accentuated the salinity and minerality of the oysters. Most wines would interfere with such simple, pure flavors, but not Chablis, and this one was a champ. But I had more tests in mind.
A special at The Clam the night I visited was a ceviche made with razor clams, so a light dish of thinly sliced clams, radish and shallots “cooked” by mixing with mild citrus juice for a few minutes. Here the challenge to the Chablis was to stand up to the acidity of the ceviche, and it did so without flinching – as the theory tells us to expect, the acidity in the ceviche balanced that of the Chablis, making the wine appear fruitier without detracting from its lovely minerality.
Finally, I couldn’t help myself – I had to test the Chablis with salt so I ordered some of The Clams exceptionally good French fries – thin, crisp, a little bit of fat clinging to them and doused with a salty seasoning. That may have actually been my favorite pairing because the fries tasted fresher thanks to the cleansing acidity of the wine, and the salt helped keep the wine from seeming overly acidic.
All in all, it was a triumphant experiment. I’ll tell you another time what I did with the red wine!
If you want to go, here are the restaurant’s details (you can book a table on their website or, in the US and Canada, on the Open Table app):
420 Hudson Street
New York, NY 10014