Pair like a pro
If they grow together, mystery solved
When it comes to matching food and wine, people are often intimidated by the belief that it’s a big mystery, an issue to be tackled and solved only by an expert. However, if you think of wine as simply another flavored beverage, then you already have a leg up on how to pair the two.
Consider these simple and common favorite flavor combos: warm chocolate chip cookies with ice-cold milk, root beer with vanilla ice cream, barbecue with sweet tea or pepperoni pizza with a Coke poured over a glass packed with ice. These are things we like to eat and drink together; they are literally no-brainers. If we train our palates to match wine with food, then that, too, will become second nature.
There are generally three outcomes of any food and wine pairing:
The wine will dominate the food.
The food will overwhelm the wine.
The food will make the wine taste better, and the wine will make the food taste better.
Obviously we are aiming for the third outcome, and one of the most valuable things I have learned about food and wine pairing is the mantra of “What Grows Together Goes Together.” This mantra couldn’t be more true, and it’s why so much wine is grown in every possible pocket of Europe. Think regionally; that is, pair a dish to a wine from the same area. A rich and meaty veal osso buco from Northern Italy calls for a wine from the same area, such as Barolo, Barbera or Brunello di Montalcino. It’s a natural match. Raw oysters are briny and have a certain minerality, so you need a higher-acid wine to cut into that flavor. The Loire Valley in France is on the sea and produces sublime oysters, so the natural and perfect match for those is a light-bodied, crisp, Loire Valley muscadet or a Washington State Pinot Gris. Pizza or pasta (with red sauce) is delightful with an Italian Chianti or a California sangiovese (same grape as Chianti). If you were to have pizza or pasta with a white cream sauce, you should choose a heavy white wine like an oaked California Chardonnay. Spicy butternut squash soup or spicy (Cajun, Asian) cuisine? A sweet but dry riesling to complement the dish and to cool your palate. Sushi and sake are a mouthwatering combo as well.
There are several classic combinations that should gain mention, and sometimes as a sommelier I try to push the envelope, but the truth is some food and wine pairings are so perfect and time-tested that you shouldn’t upset the Zen. Those matches would be salmon and pinot noir, steak and cabernet sauvignon, barbecue and zinfandel and blue cheese and port wine. And on a final note, a dry rosé or sparkling wine will go well with almost everything.
The good news about what to drink with what you eat is that there are many combinations that will work, and some dishes (most, actually) will go well with a red or a white wine. It’s been my experience that people prefer reds, but whites tend to be better with most food. Want to be an at-home wine expert? Here is my recommended starter half-case of wine to have on hand so you can make a great pairing for any occasion! Cheers!
German Riesling: The most food-friendly wine on the planet
California or French Chardonnay: For roasted chicken, buttery pasta, lobster
Oregon or French Rosé (dry, not sweet): For picnics, fried chicken, salads, vegetables
Washington State Syrah/Australian Shiraz: For grilled meat, earthy dishes
French or California Pinot Noir: Styles can vary greatly, but in general for salmon, fish, chicken
California Cabernet Sauvignon or French Bordeaux: For hearty meat dishes, steak
First appeared in the April 2016 issue of Fort Wayne Magazine.