The Common Table: Beer vs. Wine Dinner Battle

by David Donalson

Imagine the announcer at a big fight, introducing the match-up: “In this corner, coming in shades of red and white, representing the east coast of California, the underdog, Wine!” (Tim Campbell waiving from the corner, smiling knowing he has a great product in unfriendly waters) Then the drum roll begins, with Jeff Fryman walking in under thunderous applause as the announcer begins “And in this corner, the hometown favorite, the one, the only, Beer!”

Okay, so this did not really happen this way but when you came into the Common Table for the Beer vs. Wine dinner, you knew you were in for an all-out fight. Truth be told, both Tim and Jeff were very supportive of each other and as Corey, proprietor of the Common Table, said: “We are here to have fun.”   

And fun it was. Chef Smith created a five course meal that was worth the cost of admission by itself. The format for the battle was a quick beverage talk then the taste test. Ballots at each table would let them know which was the better pairing. Corey asked the group to focus on the pairing aspect, not just on which beverage you liked best. So let the fun begin:

Course 1: Mini Crab BLT paired with Stone Smoked Porter and 2007 Hartford Court Land’s Edge Pinot Noir. The crab had a sweetness on the mid-palate sandwiched between the smokiness of the bacon and the creamy bite of the saffron aioli. While the Porter worked well with the bacon, the malts in the beer seemed to mask the sweetness of the crab while the Pinot Noir had enough red fruit to brighten the crab and still hold up to the aioli and bacon. My wife and I both voted wine.

Winner: Wine by a vote of 48-28

Course 2: Baby Spinach Salad with 2008 Ommegang Biere de Mars and 2009 Longshadows Poet’s Leap Riesling. The trick with this pairing was working through the earthy mushrooms, the bitter greens and the bite from the asiago cheese. Tim decided to work with the sweetness of the Riesling to bridge the mushrooms and spinach but the wine was just too sweet. The Biere de Mars was creamy with a hint of orange that was a great pairing. The Biere did not let the bitterness of the spinach take control of your palate. My wife and I both voted beer.

Winner: Beer by a vote of 37-29

Course 3: Pan Seared Scallop with Mikkeller Not Just Another Wit and 2006 Robert Mondavi  Reserve Fume Blanc. Going in to this course, I was curious if the Fume Blanc would have enough fruit to hold up to the sweetness in the scallop. The Mikkeller would be hard to beat. It was a complex mixture of citrus, florals with a good weight and a decent amount of bitterness from the hops. This would actually be the downfall to the beer. The beautiful scallop (honestly the best scallop I have ever had, with a great crust and velvety texture) was sitting in the fresh pea puree that accented the hops in the beer while the Fume Blanc had the acid and just enough fruit to prop up the scallop while only sitting in the background. The beer was better on its own but our vote had to go for wine. Surprisingly, we were not alone.

Winner: Wine by a vote of 49-26

Course 4: Grilled Lamb T-Bone paired with Schneider  Aventinus and 2007 Pahlmeyer. Talk about some heavy-hitting drinks. The Aventinus was beautifully complex and balanced. The best beer of the night. Compare this to the similarly complex  Pahlmeyer, with strong fruit, spice and floral notes and everyone was in heaven. The T-bone was good but the highlight was the walnut pesto on the side. This was the toughest decision of the night and the only decision my wife and I did not agree on. I voted for the wine because it best matched the lamb and my wife voted for the beer because it was perfect with the pesto.


Winner: Beer 42-34

So it all came down the final course, Tiramisu. Jeff went with the 2008 Brooklyn  Black Chocolate Stout, a very rich and creamy beer with a touch of malt and chocolate. This was delicious and a great match for the creamy tiramisu. Tim told me he knew Jeff would go big and heavy and used this reasoning to avoid the obvious wines, instead opting to go with the Santo Stefano Moscato, a frizzante (slightly fizzy), sweet wine full of citrus and soda flavors that I thought took away from the flavors of the tiramisu. My wife and I were quick to circle beer and thought it was a slam dunk win for Jeff.

Winner: Wine 42-34

Tim, the underdog, the man who brought wine to the pub, converted some and showed that wine can prevail when pairing food. I actually heard from several people that they did not buy wine but were going to give it a chance now. My wife now has me on the hunt for Aventinus so some wine people were changed for the better too.

Overall, this was a complete success and I heard rumors that this may be coming back in the near future. If so, put me down for two.

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Filed under beer, chefs, Cicerone, Contest, Crave, David Donalson, Events, Food Porn Alert, fun with food, Jeff Fryman, Uptown, Wine

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