The Do Or Die Of Food And Wine Pairing

Learn How To Pair Food And Wine

Learn how to pair food and wine!Sounds scary, doesn’t it? It should. Pairing food and wine is one of the most difficult things to do in life. Get it wrong and your whole evening will be ruined. You will lose your self-respect, your dignity, your friends, your family will stop calling, random dogs will bite you and pee on your leg, all will be lost and you will most certainly die alone.

Pairing food and wine sounds complex and may seem a daunting task for a beginner learning about wine, but it isn’t. And I’m going to show you just how easy it is. The only tools you need are your senses: smell, taste and touch.

The key to pairing food and wine is simple: eat what you like and drink what tastes good to you.

If you asked a hundred people to describe the perfect pizza, you would get a hundred different answers. Is there any right answer? No, it’s all in what you like. Yet while there is no right or wrong wine to go with whatever dish, there is a better wine.

Let’s debunk some basic food and wine pairing myths.

“Your dish and your wine should be the same color.”

Huh? First of all, I’ve never eaten anything the color of deep purple, or piss yellow. And I’ve certainly not had a wine the color of asparagus. Throw that statement right out the window with a little word I like to use called defenestrate. What it really means to say is you should match white wine with fish and red with beef. BUT that again is an invalid statement. Yes you can pair those combinations, but take Pinot Noir and Tuna for instance: red wine, fish. Both complement each other. Or Chardonnay and Veal: white wine, beef. Another fine combination.

“You should match food and wine to their respective countries.”

Hmm. Maybe. But not necessary. Both may have developed together over the centuries in their respective regions, but today with all the mega millions of wine out there, it’s more about complementing fruit character with a dish and pairing it with the right winemaking style than with country origin. Look at Thai food and Riesling: a perfect combo.

“You just can’t pair asparagus with wine.”

Now I’ve made several jokes about off odors in wine and asparagus in the past, but it’s not impossible to pair asparagus with wine. It’s all in the preparation. Asparagus with melted Parmigiano-Reggiano (Parmesan) as a side dish with a filet Mignon would complement a full-bodied Merlot. The same goes with ingredients like vinegar, spinach, artichokes, etc., or anything astringent that is typically characterized as a bad pairing with wine; it’s all in the preparation.

One thing you should do to improve your food and wine pairing skill is to match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food. You don’t want one to overpower the other. What you’re looking for is a fine balance between the two. Below is a simple table of food and wine arranged from lightest to heaviest.

Food Wine
Salad Sparkling wine
Starches (potatoes, rice) Rosé
Fish Pinot Grigio
Poultry Chardonnay
Pork Pinot Noir
Beef Merlot
Cabernet Sauvignon

This table is just a guideline; like I’ve said, foods can be paired with any wine with the right preparation. For example, adding a creamy dressing to a salad increases the weight of the food as opposed to adding a vinaigrette. Likewise with wine, residual sugar added to a Rosé as with White Zinfandel can increase the weight of the wine. Barrel fermentation and sur lies aging (wine aged on the lees or wine aged on the yeast residue during fermentation) will add weight to a white wine as the intensity of fruit, barrel aging and prolonged skin contact will add weight to red wine.

Once you balance the weights of your food and wine you can play around with the flavors and textures of each to come up with some complementing or contrasting styles. The key is to look beyond the main ingredient and find the main flavor. Garlic is a flavor that dominates any meal it is added to, so you would look for a wine that complements or contrasts garlic first then pair to the main ingredient second, like chicken with roasted garlic or roast beef with garlic. Two different meals, one main flavor, decisive secondary flavors. Garlic is alkaline, so something contrasting to that would be an acidic wine like Pinot Grigio with the Chicken dish or Sangiovese with the roast beef and garlic.

As I said before, though, there are no hard and fast rules to pairing food and wine; for the most part it’s all in your personal preference. But there are ways to improve your pairings so that they are well rounded instead of having the same old boring wine meal after meal.

Take a look at the following link for some basic food and wine pairing guidelines to help you learn how to pair food and wine better.

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