Food and Wine Pairing
Imagine you just cooked yourself a perfectly bland dish of gray goop, totally neutral. The flavor places it somewhere between rice and cardboard and it’s texture straddles the divide between bread and soggy breakfast cereal. It is neither spicy nor sweet and can be eaten efficiently with either a fork or a spoon. The dish checks all the boxes for nutritional value but beyond hunger, you have no inspiration to take a bite. Pass the salt?
Actually, while reading this you may have a condiment or two in mind that you’d consider adding to the dish to liven it up a little bit. Salt and pepper are obvious candidates but what about tweaking it a little further? Perhaps a mixture of herbs, spices, and vegetables? Or maybe you’d even consider nuts, olives, garlic, oils or fruits to spruce up the dish. While the addition of other ingredients won’t change the fact that the gray blob constitutes remains the main component of the dish, they will allow you to bend the flavors and find a sort of dynamic balance between sweet and sour or savory and bitter etc. If done in a certain way, you can select ingredients that can push and pull the dish in to and out of white or red wine territory.
Last week we covered some of the basics of food and wine pairing. This week will take it one step further and we’ll talk about some ingredients that can either make or break a wine selection.
Hearty Herbs – Raymond Usseglio & Fils Cuvee Girard Chateauneuf Du Pape, 2015 $59.99
What goes together grows together is a common phrase to hear when discussing food and wine pairing. This simply means that often times a wine from a particular region best matches the food from that same region. This red blend from the Southern Rhone, has traditionally been paired with the food of Provence. So, what exactly is the cuisine of Provence? In all honesty, for what we’re doing here, it doesn’t really matter all that much but what DOES matter is what exactly Herbs de Provence are and why the go so well with the wines of Southern France.
Herbs of Provence is a catch all term for a blend of sage, rosemary, thyme, oregano, lavender and other fragrant herbs which also grow as fragrant shrubbery, known as garrigue, throughout the Mediterranean. This Chateauneuf du Pape has these aromas in spades along with a pretty fierce tannin structure and focused black and red fruit flavors. Cooking with the mentioned herbs can create an affinity between the wine and the food which brings a little more cohesion to the table. Like we talked about last week, the tannins and structure of a red wine yearns for fat and protein so a roast seasoned with a mixture of hearty herbs would be a wonderful accompaniment to this wine.
Additionally, hearty and pungent herbs typically pair really well with red wines while the softer herbs like basil, cilantro, parsley, and chervil share an affinity with white wines. There are always exceptions and we’ll discuss one of those exceptions later.
Earthliness – Mushrooms and Truffles, Luigi Baudana Barolo Baudana, 2008 – $84.99
As wines age, their bouquets become more complex; the fruit aromas gradually integrate into a fuller olfactory experience while the aromas like baking spices, leather, flowers, and earth move toward the foreground and create a more captivating glass of wine. Barolos and Barbarescos, made from the Nebbiolo grape, are highly structured with grippy tannins and mouthwatering acidity making them great candidates for meat dishes and rich fatty sauces. As they age, earthy qualities such as truffles, roses, and tar emerge and can be some of the most enchanting aromas to be found in any wine. This Barolo from Baudana is just entering it’s drinking window and starting to show those trademark components. Again with the truism – what grows together goes together – the famous Perigord Truffles grow in the same region as these world class wines and are perfect pairing companions.
Mushrooms can also add a dynamic component to aged wines and some young wines aw well (Pinot Noir anyone?) and much like herbs, they too can be broken into two separate camps, one for red wine and one for white. The rule is fairly simple, the darker the mushroom, the more likely it is to pair with a red wine while the lighter chanterelle and button mushrooms are more likely to pair with a white wine.
Cheese, Hippolyte Reverdy Sancerre, 2016 – $31.99
Sauvignon Blanc, beyond the Lemon Rule which we talked about last week, can truly pop some of the flavors of summer like no other wine. Tomatoes, green olives, and fresh herbs (even the hearty ones) are all great partners for this varietal. This Sancerre from the Loire Valley exhibits fresh lemon and grassy flavors with nice minerality and heightened acidity.
Acidity is a key component of wine as it is important to select a wine that has higher acidity than the food it’s pairing to ensure that it doesn’t come off as bland. Sauvignon Blanc’s elevated acidity and flavor profile makes is a perfect mate for salads with Feta or goat’s milk cheeses.
Now would actually be a decent time to bring up the power of olives. Much like mushrooms, the darker the olive the more likely it is to find kinship with red wine and vice versa for green olives and white wines.
Savory New World Cuisine, Acosta Versante Nord, 2016 $26.99
This wine is has one foot flirting with the orange wine style and the other foot firmly planted in Sicilian volcanic soils. Orange wines are fantastically fun to pair with food as they’re structure completely sets them apart from other whites or for that matter red wines. This particular wine however, only saw five days of skin contact which was just enough to imbue it with rich, savory, floral, tropical fruit, and herbaceous qualities but not push the wine completely into the orange wine realm.
This is a perfect candidate for so much of the incredible and dynamic flavors of new American Cuisine which seem to cross the lines of tradition and marry wild combinations of flavor and textures together in sometimes unbelievable ways. The wine is light enough for fish but the herbal component and richness also begs for some savory fruit chutney and sweet pork. If you are an inventive and experimental person in the kitchen, I strongly recommend this wine as an option for a creative endeavor.
At the wine shop, one of the first questions we ask a customer when they are looking for a wine recommendation is whether or not it is going to go with food. Perhaps the reasoning for that question is now clear. If the answer is yes, you can imagine our line of thought as we ask questions about what the protein will be, how will it be cooked, what the sides will be, which seasonings will be used, etc. All of these components inform our process of recommending a wine.
It’s an honor to work at North Loop with all the fantastic palates and experience that the other employees literally bring to the table. I’d encourage all of you to take advantage of it and lean on us for any questions that you might have about food and wine pairing. It’s what we love to do.
Cheers, thanks for reading, and I hope to see you around the shop soon,