What wine will go well with my meal…or maybe, what meal will go well with my wine? In any case, there are many components to what we eat and what we drink: textures, flavors, weights, and chemical compositions, let alone the relationships created when we combine their various elements! It is also true you can spend a lifetime honing your ability to craft memorable pairings of greater depth, interest, and cohesion.
There is No “Wrong” Answer
Given wine and food’s potential complexity, making good pairing decisions are well within the ability of almost everyone, and many of the choices you make will be based upon personal preference.
Lets say that once more in a different way: First and foremost – drink what you like. Wine is truly and completely subjective, with great latitude for personal preference, and while some wines are better suited to some foods, don’t make the mistake of drinking a wine you simply won’t enjoy because some wine expert says it’s a great wine. That said; most of us don’t know everything we like, so be adventurous, try new things, and take a risk from time to time. The reward of that surprising discovery when you stumble upon something extraordinary is absolutely priceless.
Harmony or Contrast?
When I choose wine to pair with a meal, I start with a simple question: Do I want the wine to work in harmony with the food, or do I want to offer some contrast? Certainly, when your meal and your wine are in perfect harmony, you can loose track of when you are eating and when you are drinking, the two merging into a seamless whole, more than the sum of their components. On the other hand, contrast yields the brightest experience, with each element showcasing the other for what it is not. Even so, in contrast, most pairings will have some echo, or complimentary aspects. All pairings should showcase your meal to its’ best advantage.
Here’s an example: Our entrée is Salmon Oscar. The salmon has a medium to full flavor, it is pan seared imparting a little smoky, caramelized aspect, and topped with crab, asparagus and béarnaise. To work in harmony with this dish we might choose a lush, oaky Napa Valley Chardonnay, hoping to pair the creaminess of the wine; buttery, ripe, soft, full; with the richness of the béarnaise sauce and the sweetness of the crab. We might also pair this entrée with a rich Oregon Pinot Noir, again in harmony, looking to accentuate the earthiness of the salmon while maintaining a creamy texture. To contrast the Oscar, we might try crisp Muscadet from the western Loire Valley of France. The wine’s light, briny quality begs for seafood, while its high acidity cleanses the palate of heavy sauces, making each bite taste like the first. If you prefer a red wine to provide contrast with the Oscar you might try a nice Italian Chianti Classico, with its characteristic tangy, cleansing acidity, woody backbone and focused minerality.
Here’s another example: Our entrée is grilled Filet Mignon topped with a light Danish Blue Cheese. To work in harmony with this dish we might try a big Australian Shiraz, the smokiness of the wine complimenting the filet’s grilled preparation and the cheese serves to soften the tannins of the wine. We could also try a youthful, vibrant, red Bordeaux, whose body is up to the challenge of grilled meat and whose terroir driven earthiness showcases the blue cheese. If we wanted to provide contrast to this dish, we might try an aged, German Auslese Riesling, whose high acid and high sugar can handle the weight of the entrée while cleansing the palate and making the Danish Blue Cheese sing.
Here are some basic pairings you can use to take some of the guesswork out of wine selection.
Most importantly, the over-all weight of your wine should mirror the weight of your meal. A heavier meal does better with a heavier wine (and a lighter meal with a lighter wine) because both can assert their attributes without overpowering each-others qualities. You certainly would not want to spend one hundred dollars on Grand Cru Chablis, and be unable to taste it through your barbecue ribs! Likewise, the delicate flavors of abalone or lobster are almost sure to be lost in the robust Malbecs from Argentina.
Typically, white wine goes best with seafood, light poultry, and pork; and works well with sauté, poaching, steaming, and frying.
Some white wines you may consider, arranged light (top) to heavy (bottom):
- Pinot Grigio
- Sauvignon Blanc
- Pinot Blanc
Red wine pairs nicely with beef, lamb, wild game, and darker poultry; and compliments roasting, grilling, brazing, searing and smoking.
Some red wines arranged light to heavy:
- Pinot Noir
- Cabernet Sauvignon
Wine and food pairings can be as simple or as complex as you want them to be. Everyday choices made with a little knowledge, common sense, and personal tastes will serve you well. And, when you decide to create a little beauty, delve into the myriad and complex nuances of food and wine and craft something memorable.
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