The Ritz-Carlton’s Wine & Food Pairing Matrix
Written By: Hailing Li in collaboration with DFV Wines’ Rob Bickford
When planning banquets or weddings there always seems to be an endless number of factors that must be taken into account in order for everything to go smoothly. One missed detail can turn brides into bridezillas. How can a hotel F&B manager or catering planner avoid incurring such wrath and disaster? Here is where the internet steps in and what one prestigious hotel chain created to smooth the process.
The Ritz-Carlton has commissioned an internet application that helps organize the wine and food for their catering events. It combined two existing tools—a wine and food pairing matrix, developed by Jerry Comfort from Beringer Vineyards, and a Progressive Wine list. To create this project Ritz-Carlton turned to Rob Bickford who was then at Foster’s Wine Estates. Rob worked with Foster’s Wine Estates’ Director of Training, Jerry Comfort, who at one time was the chef at Beringer’s Hudson House. Jerry recently created the Progressive Food Menu and helped create the Progressive Wine list concept a few years ago.
Bart Buiring, Corporate VP-F&B for The Ritz-Carlton Hotel Company explains:
“This helpful tool has been very well received, especially by our Event Managers. The wines from our corporate Luxury Beverage Collection are categorized and paired with items on the banquet menus for individual hotels. It gives our Ladies & Gentlemen an easy reference tool and our guests relevant wine recommendations.”
Together with iMi’s computer team and input from The Ritz-Carlton team, they created a web based platform that accurately tied the wine list with the wine and food pairing content. Importantly, it was attractive and useful to the ladies and gentlemen at the hotel level.
The matrix is a basic food pairing approach that focuses on the primary tastes of a menu item and then places it into one of 4 categories. The focus of the wine pairings is not personal preference, but an objective observation of how a wine changes or does not change when paired with each of these four categories. If the primary taste is Sweet/Spicy Hot/or Protein (Umami) dominant, then the food is a Category 1. Category 2 foods are Acid/Bitter/Protein (Umami) dominant; and classic balanced cuisine, sweetness balanced by acidity, and bitterness by salt, Category 3 can be paired with any wine. Dessert, which is dominated by sweetness, is Category 4 and simply requires that the wine be sweeter than the dessert.
The matrix explains why milder, sweet and/or fruity whites can pair well with Category 1 foods, while more crisp and acidic wines low in tannin or oak will pair well with the higher acidic food of Category 2. Excitingly, all wines on a wine list will pair successfully with Category 3 foods, since the food will not change the way the wine will taste. Thus, if a guest likes a particular wine—red or white, mild or strong, sweet or dry—if paired with a Category 3 food, they will find the wine just as they like it, regardless of the meeting planner’s personal, subjective preference.
So how does this help The Ritz-Carlton planner? Firstly, it is much easier and faster to respond to direct questions about the wines to be selected for a variety of dishes. It is a time saver and confidence builder for any experienced or inexperienced planner. Secondly, it removes the subjective indecision we all face when asked about wine and food pairings and allows the sales person to find out the style of food and wine that the guest likes and wants to be served at their event.
Each wine is arranged in the progressive format that easily identifies the sweetness or dryness, acidity, tannins and intensity; the wines are coded to pair well with all the categories. The categories are pre-populated with wines from Ritz-Carlton’s core wine list. Users can select wines from that list and may also add wines to their matrix. Each hotel has its own private login and the administrator of that hotel can create, add to, or remove wines from the list to fit their location and events.
The Wine and Food Pairing Matrix will not solve all crises that arise during events, but it can help. The matrix can give expert guidance on what type of wine to pair with the food served and cut down on human error. This system is custom made for The Ritz-Carlton to suit their needs, but if this sounds like an idea that could potentially aid your chain please contact Larry McGinn (firstname.lastname@example.org) for more information.