Take the mystery out of a great food and wine pairing! Read on for four fun tips to picking the perfect wine every time. And lots of suggestions on what to drink with any meal, including what wine pairs best with Cheetos!
Four fun tips for pairing wine with food
I can't take credit for the following advice. I heard it from a Master Sommelier during a certification course with the Court of Master Sommeliers. And while the practice of pairing wine with food is extremely subjective, these four ideas can lead you to wonderful wine times.
Pairings best avoided. The example given at the seminar was "oysters and Cabernet Sauvignon". Oysters are delicate and the bold red wine so dry and tannic, it is a match made in, well, down below. Another disastrous pairing might be Pinot Grigio and a porterhouse steak. Light and fruity doesn't really jive with charred and fatty.
I love this one. We've all made fun of the Swiss at one time or another for being, well, uninvolved (sorry, Switzerland). And this can happen with food and wine. There's food on the plate and wine in the glass, but everyone's minding their own business. No excitement. Or pizzaz. But no complementary flavors, either. Switzerland.
For many people in many careers, the solo act is the epitome of success. Lead actor, executive chef, chief operating officer, attending surgeon, president. We get it. But it's not a nice concept with wine pairing. If just the wine or just the dish overpower the other, you may as well not have bothered. It would be an incredible waste of food or wine, or both.
This is the goal! Harmony at the table among all players. The flavors and intensities of both the food and the wine complement each other, yet taste better with each ensuing bite and sip. But how, you might ask? Keep reading...
Wine pairing tips for meat + seafood
Weight with weight. Eat seafood with Chablis, not heavy red wines. Drink Zinfindel while eating lamb. For crowd pleasers with a range of food, try Chardonnay or Pinot Noir. I personally love a full-bodied, dry sparkling wine, because I find it can take you through many a meal from the salad to the roasted chicken.
Acids with acids, dust with dust. The dust part was just for fun, but if you have food that is high in acid, such as a vinaigrette, briny seafood or tart goat cheese, enjoy them with a light white wine also high in acid. Candidates: Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling or Chablis (France's version of a light and bright Chardonnay).
Fish hate tannins. Or in other words, the fatty oils in fish such as salmon and tuna get even fishier when eaten while drinking a bold, dry red wine. But hey, if you want your fish even fishier, you do what you want with your own taste buds.
Candidates: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Sémillon, Chablis, Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling, white Bordeaux or white Burgundy.
Red meats love tannins. The mouth-drying effect of a bold red wine such as an Italian Barolo or Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is perfectly balanced by fatty, rich red meat. They've actually done scientific studies on the effect of this pairing on your salivary glands. But for the sake of brevity just take it from me, it's magic.
Candidates: Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Petit Syrah, red Bordeaux, red blends from California, Spain and Italy.
Pairing wine with side dishes + desserts
Desserts need sugar. The wine must be sweeter than the food. This is why all those dessert wines like Sauternes and Germany's Trokenbeerenauselese (trok-in-bear-en-ow-sa-lay-za) are listed on the dessert menu. Sweet dishes will ruin the nuances of dry wine. It's important to note that many wines are made in a variety of styles and sweetness. A dry Riesling will pair terribly with bread pudding, but a sweet one would be lovely. And port and molten chocolate cake...Magic!
Candidates: Tawny port, Ruby port, Sauternes, Moscato d'Asti, Ice wine.
Beware of green things. Bitter green vegetables like asparagus and artichokes are notorious for turning the flavors of great wines metallic. If these are on the plate, either make sure they are cooked extensively (grilled or roasted), or paired with light white wines with herbal notes.
Candidates: Gruner Vetliner from Austria, or a Sauvignon Blanc.
The Triple "S" Rule. Salty, smoky, spicy. If the food in front of you is one, both or all three - choose wisely. Acidic wines such as dry sparkling wines, Riesling and Chenin Blanc balance the heat and salt well. A red wine does not - it will not even be close to magical. Champagne works best in my book. See here about its effect on Cheetos.
Suggestions: Any dry - or brut - sparkling wine. For great moderately priced sparkling wines, give Gruet, Domaine St. Michelle and even Freixenet Cava a try. For a special bottle of American-made sparkling wine, I love the wines by Schramsberg and Domaine Carneros.
Regardless which wine you choose on any given occasion (or just Tuesday), cheers, salud, santé, prost and opa!
Yours in avoiding disasters of all kinds,