A simple guide to wine and food pairing
I am stepping out of my typical blog box today to write about food and wine. I used to write a wine column years ago for Southern Living Magazine, and I actually attended a Mastering wine class at the Culinary Institute in Greystone. I learned that being able to match up basic flavor combinations is a critical life skill, and can be applied to a variety of scenarios. Whether you’re ordering food in a restaurant, hosting a dinner party or pursuing a career in hospitality, it’s important to know how to create flavor fireworks with your favorite bottle of Chateuneuf du Pape or Chardonnay.
If you do plan on serving some proper fizz with your canapés, know the flavors that go well together. Go above and beyond the obvious and often inappropriately decadent choices of oysters and caviar.
Instead, achieve something more subtle by pairing a delicate stem glass of champagne with cucumber and crab canapés for a successful pre-dinner nibble that’s evocative of the sea froth, viewed from a windswept coastline.
Bright, sparky whites like Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc zing through creamy sauces and elaborate on the zesty characteristics of dishes like lemon chicken, ceviche and salmon. A vegetarian tipple of choice, Chablis makes a cool partner to a salad or avocado-based starter. Desserts, on the other hand, will pair lovingly with a delicate, yet rich glass of sweet Moscato.
This dynamic mix tends to display the best of both worlds – the delicacy and fragrance of a good white, fortified by the substance and heart of a red. Dry rose contrasts well against creamy, rich cheese dishes like fondue. Try pairing with soufflé, carbonara or goat cheese salad for an unexpected treat. Berry dishes will sing out from the plate when partnered with a blushing Zinfandel, as will pork loin.
Try something bold, rich and deliberate, there’s nothing like letting a darker wine loose on a well-seasoned cut of red meat. Anything with peppery characteristics: duck, steak and the like will tussle joyfully with a brooding glass of Syrah, while velvety Merlot should eke out the indulgence of any dark, chocolatey dishes. Light reds work a charm with meatier fish as an alternative to white; try Pinot Noir with salmon for a sophisticated coupling.
While there are certain, specific guidelines for pairing wine with food, the real joy of the exercise is in experimentation and discovery. Don’t be too rigid in your attitude, or feel that you have to adhere to a perceived rule of thumb. Being experimental is all part of the eccentricity of being a gourmand. Make your own discoveries, because at the end of the meal, it’s your palate that you’re trying to satisfy, and no two are the same.