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Interview with a Wine Guy: Mission Fondue


[Editor's Note: Haylley Johnson is one of Seven Days' two summer food interns. She'll be writing a series of blog posts on cooking and wine pairing. Here's the first one.]

Interview with a Wine Guy: Mission Fondue

Picking out good wine can be tricky, and pairing wine with a meal even more so. For novice wine lovers — like me — not knowing where to begin makes it nearly impossible. I decided to ask a few local wine shop owners for help.

This week, Brad Kelley, owner of the Burlington Wine Shop, suffered my endless inquiries.

Kelley originally started enjoying wine the way some do: turning 21, trying plenty of vino and asking plenty of questions. Soon, he found himself with a job at the wine shop on St. Paul Street. When the owners decided to sell, Kelley decided to buy, and the Burlington Wine Shop was born.

Here's his perspective on pairing wine with a Euro classic...

SD: I’m making Swiss fondue tonight and I’ve got a loaf of homemade whole-wheat bread. What wine would pair well with that?

BK: It sort of screams out for white wine. A lot of French whites, stuff from ... Sancerre [(typically made with sauvignon blanc grapes)] and other Loire whites do really well [with fondue]. They are light and dry with a crisp acidity. The fat and texture of the cheese works with that acidity ... A lot of sauvignon blancs from New Zealand, South Africa and even the US start to go in the grassy herbal direction, which I think doesn’t quite work as well with the Swiss.

SD: So are you saying fruity wines go well with Swiss cheeses?

BK: Not so much fruity — Sancerres are known to have a minerality. They are pretty much bone dry, light in body, and then [have] that acidity we were talking about. Something like a California chardonnay, which has richer riper fruit, often has oak ... [and] gets a little bit too robust.

SD: So why white wine?

BK: Well, there is a lot of talk that white wine really pairs better with cheese in general. When you think of wine and cheese, a lot of people immediately think red wine, but it can actually be a little bit harder to pair red wines with cheese, especially lighter cheeses.

I tend to do [reds] more with blue and Gorgonzola. Those heavier cheeses tend to neutralize that mouth-coating quality of the tannins in heavier reds. If you were to do a red, I would suggest a pinot noir or a really light Italian.

SD: What makes a wine pairing really good?

BK: I think there are a lot of different things that can happen in terms of different flavors and acid and fat. I sort of think of [pairings] as having three categories: There are pairings where the wine or food takes on a new or better taste because of the other. Then there are pairings where the two work well together and sort of intertwine and become one. And then, every once in a while, I feel like you get these two things that combine to create this new flavor...

Food pairing is a very subjective thing. It is less of a science because there isn’t a clear right and wrong all the time. A lot of the traditional rules of pairing — white with fish and red with meat and all that kind of stuff — those have begun to break down over the last 10, 15, 20 years.

SD: If you put wine in a meal, does it make sense to drink the same wine with the meal?

BK: With fondue you usually do add some wine... In general, if you use a wine while you are cooking, there is a good chance that the wine would end up being a good pairing for the dish that you just made... [but] I don’t know if it would be a steadfast rule.