Which wine should I pair with butter?

image: Grape Sense – Glass Half Full

Post by our friend Manjula deSilva, wine buyer and educator. 

In 15 or so years of being in the wine business I’ve never been asked that question. But then, I only just met Drew McBath. Our encounter started off innocuously enough – he was looking for wine for the evening and I approached him and offered my assistance. Over the course of our conversation we started talking about his butters and that’s when this strange question was posed. To be quite honest, that’s just not something we ever think about. Wine and butter. And not just your ordinary, over processed butter. What do you pair with really fine, handmade, butter that has real texture and flavor?

It sounded like a worthy challenge so I channeled my inner Barney Stinson and I accepted. Drew left me with a small sample of his unsalted butter and I headed off to the kitchen – first to taste the butter and then to ponder how I was going to match a wine to it.

My first impression of the Banner Butter was that I was chewing through cream. I should apologize quickly for my lack of better butter descriptors. I’ve always considered butter to be a basic pantry staple and I never paid close attention to the actual flavors that it imparts. I tried a small taste of the butter that I had in the fridge for a comparison. My cheap grocery store brand is pretty light in texture and while creamy, had a slightly sour note to the finish. The Banner Butter, on the other hand, was unctuous and fresh. But that richness made me worried about what would happen to a wine.

Rich fats and creams coat the mouth. Eat some Brie or Camembert and you’ll see what I mean. Pairing a wine to either of those cheeses requires something with strong acids to cut through the cream and refresh your palate. A nice crisp white wine will do the trick easily; a really tart red might survive as well. But a big, rich red, like a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Merlot, will get flattened by those cheeses. And I do mean flattened – there’s not enough acidity to cleanse the palate so the wine suffers. A really rich butter will do the same thing to a wine.

A happy accident took place a week later. We hosted a winemaker from Veuev Clicquot, one of the noble houses of Champagne, and after the tasting I was left with a small amount of the 2004 La Grande Dame Brut. I grabbed a baguette from the tasting and spread some of Drew’s butter on it and tried it with a glass of the Champagne. The richness of the butter made good bread great and the pear and lemon citrus in the Champagne cut nicely through the cream. But the La Grande Dame has a silky texture of its own and it created a nice balance between the wine and the food.

Now I know that it’s not every day that you open a high-end Champagne (though good for you if it is), but there are plenty of really good sparkling wines from around the world and  many of these would work as a pairing. The natural acidity in a sparkling wine will cleanse your palate and the fruit flavors will enhance the slight sweetness of the butter. Find a dry style (Brut) of sparkling that has some body to it – Argyle’s Vintage Brut and Gruet’s non-vintage Brut come to mind – and you will match the weight of the butter with the weight of the wine.

Since my Champagne tasting I have tried a few different white wines with the unsalted Banner Butter. The ones that worked well had crisp citrus flavors to cut through the creaminess of the butter like the Honig Sauvignon Blanc. A well-balanced Chardonnay, one that had good fruit as well as a rich, buttery finish – The Raeburn Russian River Valley Chardonnay specifically – matched textures nicely. An oddball match that I really liked was a light bodied Txakolina from Spain; the Txakolina had a touch of effervescence and a light sea salt flavor that popped nicely against just plain bread and butter.

With the weather changing, I’m drinking more reds so my next round of experiments will involve cooking with Drew’s butter. I’m thinking that I’ll be able to create much richer and more flavorful pan sauces using this butter. But that’s later. Right now I’m off to the gym. Apparently I’ve been carb loading a bit too much. Such are the sacrifices I make for my job.

Manjula deSilva
Wine Buyer / Educator
Cook’s Warehouse and Sherlock’s Wine – Decatur

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