Random thoughts on the world of wine, presented in no particular order.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pairing wine.

"What's the right wine to go with [whatever]?"  If you're a wine geek, and out to your friends about it, it's probably a question you're confronted with every time you go out to a restaurant.  Of course, there's no specific training for pairing food and wine, at least for most people (culinary school/hotel and restaurant management graduates and sommeliers exempted).

However, there are some rules that can be applied to help find good pairings for foods.  No, not "red with meat, white with fish," that won't work at all (imagine drinking an over-the-top Australian Shiraz with a delicate fillet mignon!  Ugh.).  But...
  • Think of the weight of the food in the mouth -- heavier food will pair with heavier wines, lighter food with lighter wines.
  • How intense the wine is -- an over-the-top wine will overpower a light, delicate food.  Conversely, a rich, heavy food would overpower a delicate wine.
  • High-acidity wines will pair well with foods that are mouth-coating and fatty.  So chicken in a cream sauce will pair well with a crisp medium-weight wine (chicken is what I would call "medium weight" food), while sea bass in butter would go with a crisp light wine.
  • Think of the flavors in the wine; would they compliment the flavors of the food, or might they contrast well?  The citrus in a New Zealand sauvignon blanc, for example, would go great with fish tacos!  Ditto the earthy flavors of a good Rhône red and a beef stew with mushrooms and potatoes.
  • How sweet is the wine?  Sweet wines go well with hot and spicy foods.  Additionally, if you're pairing with dessert, choose a wine that's sweeter than the dessert, or it'll come off slightly bitter.
  • Finally, relax.  There's still wine in the glass, there's nothing wrong with that.  If you pair "wrong," there's nothing to worry about -- I know of at least one person who loves White Zinfandel with steaks!
Some good general pairings:  Australian Shiraz and wet barbecue -- spicy, smoky, slightly sweet wine with spicy, smoky, slightly sweet sauce!  Russian River Pinot Noir and tuna steaks -- good, high acidity, medium weight red with fatty, weighty fish (yep, a red with fish!).  Seafood in butter and Loire whites -- Loire whites go phenomenally with seafood, from clams to scallops to lobster.  Spicy Chinese food and slightly sweet Gewürtztraminer or Riesling.

So why fear having to pair wine and food?  As an outspoken friend of mine once said, "why worry?  It's just f*cking wine!"  Given that the speaker is a man with 40+ years as a wine importer, and a gourmet chef... if he doesn't worry, neither should you.

Photo credit: FreePhoto.com.

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