How to Navigate food and wine pairing:
The question of what wine and foods go together is confusing for most of us because there is so
much contradictory information out there. I spend a lot of time reading food and wine magazines
because I believe that food and wine go together and food without wine is like cookies without
milk. As I pour over the articles, I start to feel as if the experts somehow have magical powers
to know the perfect pairing; consequently, I feel like I must rely on the experts’
recommendations. However, logic tells me that they can’t know everything because there are
literally infinite combinations of food and wine that might pair perfectly.
The other problem that pairing presents is that you and I have limited resources and availability
to foods and wines that might possibly pair well. So what are we to do? First of all, skip Google
and start experimenting. After all, your meal is not the Last Supper.
What makes a good pairing? Simply put, it is a combination that makes the food and wine taste
better and the only way to know is to try it. To ease your fear, I believe if you follow a few rules
(rules are meant to be broken) you will get it right most of the time.
The five main characteristics in wine are sweetness, acidity, tannin, fruit, and body. If you keep
this in mind it will make your pairing selections simple. Forget the hundreds of flavor
characteristics that the experts talk about and that most of us can’t even begin to taste. If we
focus on the foods flavor, then we can pick a wine that might match that flavor. The first thing we
will get right away is that the red-wine-with-red meat and white-wine-with-chicken rule is not
very useful because both red wine and white wine can express one or more of the five flavor
groups. Before I give you a few examples to guide you, remember that it is the flavor of the food
that is more important than the type of food.
General pairings with some common and classic dishes:
For dishes that are spicy (think blackened steak or fish, Tai food, chili, spicy red sauces) go with
wines that have body acid and matching spice like Gewürztraminer (white wine), Zinfandel,
sparkling wine, and Cote du Rhone reds that tend to be lighter bodied with higher acid.
For dishes that are sweet, like chocolate, cream based sauces, rice, ripe fruit, or brie cheese, go
with a wine that is fruity like Merlot or a Riesling
For dishes that are savory like lamb, charcuterie, Italian cuisine go with a dry white wine like
Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Noir or an Italian Dolcetto
For foods that are fatty and heavy like steak, go for a tannic red like Cabernet Sauvignon.
Salmon is a difficult pairing, but maybe an oaky Chardonnay could stand up to the strong flavor.
But don’t take my advice and don’t be afraid to try pairings with whatever wine you have in the
house. If it makes the food taste better, you are just as good as the experts.