DALLAS — This story started when I was having lunch with my friend Daniel Vaughn. He’s the Barbecue Editor for Texas Monthly Magazine. Ever heard of the magazine’s Top 50 Barbecue List? He’s the driving force behind it.
“I told (David), almost sheepishly, that my favorite thing to drink with barbecue is champagne. Especially with smoked brisket,” Daniel said.
When he told me that I thought it just sounded so pretentious. Barbecue has this blue-collar vibe and champagne is so elitist. I couldn't put those two things together in my head.
So, WFAA and Texas Monthly decided it was time to collaborate and put Daniel’s theory to the test.
The Theory of Food Pairing
Daniel and I are starting out at Sachet Restaurant with Yuri Tukuli. He's a trained wine expert, officially called a sommelier.
Yuri is teaching us the theories behind of how to pair food and wine together so that they both taste even better together.
“It becomes an experience. You're no longer sitting down to feed yourself, but you're sitting down and thinking about every single flavor. And all of sudden it becomes an experience,” Yuri said.
We're learning that in any dish you can identify primary tastes like:
And you can do the same with wine. Red wine is generally a little bit bitter. White, rose and champagne – also known as sparkling wine -- are more acidic. And sweet wine is, obviously, sweet.
“If I want to enhance a certain type of flavor the dish has, I normally like to contrast that flavor with what is dominant in the wine,” Yuri explained.
He's telling us the foundation of food pairing is the idea of complementary and contrasting flavors. For example, you can complement the salty and fatty flavors of meat with a bold red wine. But you can also contrast that same dish with a white wine that may be a slightly sweet and acidic.
“I had never thought before there were these two different categories complementary versus contrasting. Of course, looking back, it seems more obvious,” Daniel said.
“Can I make a little observation?” I say while we’re drinking and eating olives together with a wine Yuri selected for us.
“This has like an orange zest and with this wine together it’s fantastic,” I say.
“This guy knows what he's doing,” Daniel says about Yuri.
“I'm tasting something I haven't tasted before,” I say.
Then, as with many conversations with Daniel, the discussion turned to barbecue.
“Brisket, that some people might say is a blue-collar food that should be paired with beer or maybe with a soda, you're saying that's not wasted on a 20-year-old champagne?”
“Absolutely not,” Yuri said.
The Taste of Barbecue
Daniel is saying the essential flavor pairing for barbecue is with champagne. So, let's talk about the flavor of barbecue.
We're trimming fat off of briskets at Cattleack Barbecue with owner Todd David.
“Would you say fat is one of the essential flavors of barbecue?” I ask Todd while we’re trimming.
“Fat is flavor, it's moisture. It’s protection against drying out,” he says.
Todd’s seasoning is a simple combination. Just salt and a few kinds of pepper. Then it’s on to the smoker.
“What is the taste that you're left with? What is the taste of barbecue?” I ask Todd and Daniel.
“Where that good quality meat and that fat and those seasonings and that smoke all mix together,” Todd explained.
“They’re so well marbled, you get the richness of that beefiness being carried by that melted fat inside. It's a beautiful thing,” Daniel said.
Okay, time to sample the goods. Daniel, Todd and I are staring down a huge platter of brisket and pouring ourselves some champagne.
“That contrasting flavor in the champagne makes you more aware of the heaviness, the smokiness,” Daniel said.
“I'm starting to come around on it,” I said.
“What do you think Todd?” I ask.
“It works. Really well. It's a great way to go through a lot of champagne very quickly,” he adds.
Alright, time to put Daniel's theory to the test.
We've carried out brisket from Cattleack to Knife Steakhouse. A panel of judges will decide how the barbecued brisket pairs with a selection of wine, beer, bourbon and a champagne produced in France by Bollinger.
Ben also assembled the 3-person judging panel: a chef, an athletic trainer and a retail salesperson.
“I didn't want a bunch of people who evaluate wine for a living. Because that skews the results as they relate to the general population,” Ben explained.
The panel is presented with a new cut of brisket for each beverage.
“They look like they're putting a lot of mental energy into this,” I said as Daniel and I watch the process.
“There's some real contemplation happening here, for sure,” Daniel agreed.
The judges are working with a ten-point scale, designed by Ryan. He and Ben added up the scores and then announced the results, starting with last place.
“We had a tie between the tempranillo wine and the champagne. A definite surprise to Ryan and myself,” Ben says.
But the panel has proven Daniel wrong. The winner, with a perfect score from all three judges, is a premium Texas bourbon from Garrison Brothers.
What did the judges like about the bourbon combination?
“They seemed to amplify each other, the brisket and the bourbon. Both flavors came out extra strong. They complement each other well,” said Daniel Pittman.
“It was a mouthful of deliciousness. It brought out the flavors of both together,” said Jillian Guess.
Daniel, who’s taking it all in stride, obviously doesn’t agree and tells the judges.
“I appreciate your palettes even if I don’t appreciate your opinions,” he jokes.
So, we verified the best pairing is not champagne, which contrasts with barbecue by cutting down the richness of smoked meat. The pair is bourbon, which compliments and amplifies the fat, spice and smoke.
“They had the opportunity to experience the sheer nirvana of champagne and brisket coming together and instead subjected that to last place. I feel bad for them,” he said.
“I don’t feel like their opinion had swayed mine at all. I still really like the champagne with the brisket,” Daniel added.
And you know what, after all we learned, I now agree with Daniel. Champagne and barbecue was my favorite pairing too.
Got something you want verified? Send an email to email@example.com.
And if you’d like to meet up with Daniel and David to talk more barbecue, they’ll be at the Brisket and Bubbles Brunch on November 9. It’s part of EDGE: The Texas Monthly Festival, sponsored in part by WFAA, happening in Dallas that weekend.
For tickets or more information, click here.