The ever-changing world of pairing

Marc Almert was named Best Sommelier of the World by the International Sommelier Association last year. Here, the sommelier at the Pavillon restaurant in Zurich shares his secrets  and how his role is evolving when it comes to wine pairing.

Nowadays we can choose from a much wider variety of wines – more and more grape varietals and regions are now available and can be integrated into the menu. Furthermore, many restaurants now offer a “beverage pairing” rather than a mere “wine pairing”, thereby showcasing other beverages such as beers, alcohol-free drinks or even cocktails in addition to wine itself. This way the sommeliers can introduce the guests to new experiences.

How does this change from country to country or region to region?
For me the type of restaurant is more important than the country or region. Outstanding great restaurants can be found in many countries and many locations, and the international guests travel specifically for a memorable dining experience – of course accompanied by selected beverages. Naturally, restaurants might include a local touch; the Pavillon (two Michelin stars) in Zurich offers an entire Swiss tasting flight as an alternative to the classic international pairing.

Who are the most open to different pairings?
Again, I believe this is more dependent on the restaurant than on the diner. For example, when I was working in an Asian restaurant in Germany  more local customers were asking for wine pairings than in the French restaurant located in the same hotel; the more unfamiliar the style of cuisine is to the diner, the more likely she or he will be open to pairings.

What are some of the more unusual pairings you have suggested?
It is still unusual in Germany or Switzerland to enjoy a sparkling wine within the menu rather than as an aperitif. Recently we had an event which combined a Brut Nature Vintage Champagne with a lovely dish of smoked salmon. Another surprise for our guests was a Sloe Gin with a matching chocolate-raspberry dessert. And of course, many guests taste certain Swiss varietals for the first time in the Pavillon’s Swiss wine tasting flight.

What is the biggest mistake most people make when pairing?
Many people think that the main component of the dish (i.e. the fish, meat etc.) is the one that determines the wine. However, often the sauce and/or a side dish can be much more dominant in taste. For example, if you have a pepper sauce with a piece of meat, the spiciness needs to be considered when choosing the ideal wine pairing.

Marc Almert will be hosting the Vinexpo Challenge, Wednesday 12 February at 10 am, PAV 7.2 – ROOM 4

Photo: Marc Almert, Best Sommelier of the World, ISA (International Sommelier Association)