The Art Of Wine Pairing: A Gastronomic Journey

14 May 2024

For culinary connoisseurs, wine pairings hold a particular allure. When you adhere to the belief that food is more than sustenance, the ritual, cultural and conversational nature of a degustation-style dinner can be hard to resist. With insights from Lucas Reynaud Paligot, we explore the nuances behind the range of wine-tasting experiences offered at The Connaught, and their enduring appeal.

Architect Frank Lloyd Wright once said: ‘Dining is and always was a great artistic opportunity’. The original context of this quote may have been more to do with designing tables than serving food, but the wider point rings true: dining is a creative undertaking. Which makes chefs and sommeliers the artists, telling a story through the food and drink they serve. It makes sense then, that wine dinners and pairings often put stories at the heart of the experience.

Rows of red wine hung on the wall, on their side.
Two bottles of Krug champagne with bottles with a rack of red wine behind.
Wine cellar with lots of wine bottles in wine racks, and lined up on the floror.
Side angle shot of bottle of sauterne in wine racks in the wine cellar

Wine tastings unravelled 

Lucas Reynaud Paligot is the Head Sommelier at Hélène Darroze at The Connaught, where wine dinners see some of the world’s most prestigious wines showcased alongside bespoke menus created by the three-Michelin-starred chef and her team. While a pairing dinner may see guests try wines from a variety of producers, a wine dinner is a more focused affair, a celebration of a single producer or vineyard.

Along with first-class gastronomy, guests are guided through each course by the people who know the wine best. It could be the winemaker, chateaux owner or export manager – but always someone with the expert knowledge and passion to field questions from curious minds. 

Wine dinners are always such a good opportunity for storytelling. We’re showcasing the most interesting wines and bringing the people who truly know the wine, so they can share the history and amazing facts of its production.

By giving producers a seat at the table, guests are able to enter their world. The experience becomes more authentic, and intimate. Over each course, guests discover the story behind each bottle: its origins, tasting notes and techniques. A great wine dinner should be a leisurely affair, with a sense of history, shared knowledge, and a glimpse at what goes on behind the scenes. For Lucas, it’s also a learning experience:

It gives us the opportunity to hear answers to questions we might not have asked ourselves.

While anecdotes help to build atmosphere, a wine dinner worth its salt must also make an impression on the palate. The process of creating food and wine pairings is no easy feat and is always a collaborative effort.

The Art of Wine Pairings

Synergy can be defined as the interaction of two or more substances to produce a combined effect greater than the sum of their parts. And it’s synergy that chefs and sommeliers strive for when planning a pairing menu. At The Connaught, Lucas and his team work closely with Executive Chef Marco Zampese, and Head Chef Timothee Martin Nadaud. As dishes are developed, tasting sessions allow the sommeliers to try their flavour profiles. When they know the dishes well enough, they are then able to choose which wines to pair them with.

This is when a sommelier’s expertise comes into play. A well-developed sense of curiosity is central to the role. A sommelier’s knowledge draws on their past wine tours and extensive tastings, their relationships with producers, and their willingness to explore lesser-known regions and small-crop makers. And of course, an intimate knowledge of their wine cellar – even one as extensive as The Connaught’s.

Armed with near-encyclopaedic knowledge, the next step is to apply it. And some classic rules do apply when it comes to wine pairings: red wines pair best with bold flavoured meats; white wines pair best with lighter flavoured meats. But on the innovative dining scene, rules are made to be broken. After all, in attending a wine dinner or pairing, people are seeking new experiences – something unexpected. According to Lucas:

Everyone has their own rules for how to pair wine with food, but these rules have been questioned and altered over time, and due to personal preferences.

Helene Darroze dish with silver spoon pouring green jus onto a creation featuring peas, balsamic and cheese
Two Helene Darroze chefs, smiling next to each other in their chef whites.
Caviar dish with radishes arranged into a flower.
two men in white chef coats, plating up a dish at Helene Darroze


Wine Tasting Experiences at The Connaught

Personal taste is arguably the most difficult factor to plan for in a wine dinner, but The Connaught’s team come prepared. They showcase five pairing menus at Hélène Darroze: three are wine-based, one features champagne, and one option is alcohol-free. From Krug vintages from the 1950s to sweet wines dating back to World War I, the pairings created for the hotel’s Sommelier’s Table events and specialist Wine Dinners are second to none. If making time for a wine tasting in London, The Connaught’s iconic wine cellar, dedicated team and exceptional cuisine make for an unparalleled experience.

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