The Basics of Food and Wine Pairing
Food and wine pairing is not rocket science or at least to my knowledge it isn’t. I hope there aren’t any sommeliers out there building rockets as mixing alcohol and rocket fuel probably isn’t the best idea. While picking the best wine for a meal can seem a little daunting, there are some very simple concepts to follow for a little extra gastronomic grace at the dining room table. For the next couple weeks, I thought that I’d use the blog to comment on some of the basic concepts of food and wine pairing and try to make some recommendations or at least pass on some of the things that I’ve learned while working in restaurants over the years.
About a week ago, I had the opportunity to teach the concepts of food and wine pairing at a private event and since I work alongside a couple of people at Northloop who also have extensive backgrounds working with wine in restaurants (Madison and Dave), I sought their advice while planning the event and had a blast talking about the different pairing options and remarkably, we were all pretty much on the same page because we all had a grasp on the same basic concepts.
Before going into this week’s featured wines and discussing what they bring to the discussion, I’d like to emphatically state the following three points:
1. The wine must pair with you before it pairs with the food.
This means drink what you want and eat what you want. If you love to drink Cabernet Sauvignon for breakfast lunch, and dinner, the last thing I would want to do is try to talk you out of that. Enjoy what you enjoy.
2. Take a second to consider what you want to be the star of the show
The wine or the food. When I worked as a sommelier, I would sometimes ask tables if they wanted wine with food or food with wine. What I meant by this was whether or not the guest was looking for a killer bottle of wine with food to accent it or perhaps they wanted a food-centric meal where different wines serve as accents to each course. It’s important to say that older, more fragile, or highly-nuanced wines often require less-demanding fare to coax out their hidden qualities. For example Some people believe that Syrah, because of its complex spice, herbaceousness, and fruity character can pair exceptionally well with Indian food but you won’t catch me bringing a 40-year-old Hermitage out for some tandoori…er wait, maybe you would…That actually sounds pretty good. Anybody got a 40-year-old Hermitage?
3. Experiment, a lot!
Try new things and be thoughtful. Here comes my soapbox moment; I am in my forties and over my life, I have been fortunate enough to eat pretty much three meals a day, every day. This puts me at over forty-thousand meals and nobody, nobody, has ever taught me how to eat. Sure, my ability to use a fork and knife is likely pretty average but no one ever really explained food to me. No one ever explained to me that the reason why I like pizza so much is that the combination of zesty tomato sauce and creamy lactic cheese is pure perfection or that the soft gooey cheesiness perfectly contrasts the crunchy crust. The great dishes of the world are nothing more than balancing acts where each ingredient complements or contrasts the other ingredients in the recipe. Wine can be thought of as one of those ingredients, as a piece of the puzzle to bring our dining experiences to the next level but again, this isn’t rocket science.
For the wines this week, I selected 5 wines which express a different aspect of wine and food pairing, and next week I’ll build on this concept and cover five other wines.
This week’s selection:
The Lemon Rule – Do Ferreiro, Albarino, 2015 – $29.99
The lemon rule is very simple, if you have a bright, tart, white wine, you can serve it with any food that you would consider giving a squeeze of lemon. This covers fish and chips, fried chicken, mussels, oysters, etc. If you wanted to take this one step further, you could also consider the other attributes of the wine. Is it herbal, mineral, more limey than peachy? All of those questions can inform a pairing idea. This Albarino has quite a bit of body and is strong aromatics as white flowers, herbs, citrus, and ocean spray jump out of the glass. These high aromatics mean that this wine would be a fair game to pair with foods like Thai cuisine. The weight would even make it a candidate for some well seasoned heavier foods like paella as well.
The Cleansing Power of Bubbles – Le Mesnil, Blanc de Blancs, Grand Cru, $51.99 – Champagne essentially two key dimensions, first is its acid level which means that it will work with The Lemon Rule along with other bright white wines but its another quality is much more fun – the bubbles. One of my favorite pairings with bubbles is macaroni and cheese, the acid and bubbles can cut right through the fatty cheese and refresh the palate. Beyond that, good old Mac n Cheese is a perfect canvas for other flavors such as truffle oil, bacon, or even asparagus to make a mark. This champagne is mineral-driven, incredibly balanced, and made from arguably the best Chardonnay grapes grown in the Champagne region – the grand cru village of Les Mesnil-sur-oger. With 3 years sur lee aging, it also has quite a bit of depth making it a great candidate for pairing with heavier fare.
Matching Intensities – Ridge, Monte Bello Chardonnay, 2013 – $81.99
If I was forced to divide dry white wines into two categories, I would put the bright, acidic whites in one camp and the creamy, oaky, luxurious whites in the other. This incredible wine by Ridge definitely falls into the later grouping. With nearly a year and a half in almost all American oak and having gone through full-malolactic conversion, this wine is opulent and thus, requires some consideration when pairing with food. Lighter foods can be overwhelmed by the weight and power of this wine. The delicate flavors of sushi aren’t the best option for this bottle, as it begs for cream based dishes built up with warm spices, rich fish mousses, or buttery sauces laced with tarragon and other herbs to bring out the dill and nut aromas imbedded in the wine from long oak aging. If you’d like to see some pretty phenomenal pairing suggestions with this wine, I’d recommend checking out Ridge’s website.
Grip – Chateau l’Insouciance, Saint Estephe 2010 – $54.99
Grippy tannins in wine call for foods high in protein or fat. This usually translates to steak for most people but if you are of a vegetarian persuasion, I would recommend hard aged cheeses or even dark beans. Much like the chardonnay above, if the wine is highly oaked, it is a great idea to look for food options that use high-impact cooking techniques such as grilling or searing which gives the food a bit of char thus lending itself to pair with the enhanced flavors of a barrel-aged wine. This Bordeaux which is a Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cab Franc blend sees 18 months in 60% new French oak and it is ready right now for your next grilling event.
Sweet with Sweeter – Disznoko Tokaji Aszu 5 Puttonyos, 2007 – $51.99
Have you ever been at a wedding and had a glass of champagne in one hand and a slice of sweet lemon wedding cake in the other? I have and this is one of the worst pairings that I can remember. The high amount of sugar in cake essentially removes every shred of fruit in the bubbly and converts it into, basically, battery acid. The secret to pairing desserts with wine is to use…dessert wines. Dessert needs a mate with a body and sweetness level that can stand up to it. In the example above, an off-dry Chenin blanc or a sweet riesling might have been a better pick. This Tokaji showcases wonderful sweetness, brimming with honey and spicy dried fruit flavors propped up by a generous amount of acidity. This would be an ideal pairing for creme brûlée or any number or custard or fruit-based sweet dishes.
There you have it, the first installment of our wine and food pairing series. If you didn’t notice, today we covered wines that represented four taste categories – sour, savory, bitter, and sweet. Next week we’ll cover the concepts of magical ingredients and focus on their power to shift a dish in the direction of white or red wines.
Thanks for reading and we look forward to seeing you around the shop soon,