Monday, August 10, 2009

Food and wine pairing 101

First of all, I want to say a big congratulations to my friend and co-worker Keith, who just passed his Advanced Sommelier Exam. This is a wicked- hard test, and he deserves a high-five for all of the work he put into it! Great job, Keith!

Now, on to matters of something that the rest of you could benefit. I wanted to talk for just a few posts about how to pair food with wine. The old "white with fish, red with meat" is still somewhat valid, but it gets much more involved than that. On the flip side, don't be intimidated by it. You will make mistakes, you will also discover things that others hadn't thought of. This is one of the main reasons why we drink wine- to elevate the food you are eating to a new level. In order to start, I want to make sure we are working with a similar vocabulary:
When talking about wine, it can be red or white (obviously), sweet or dry (talking about actual, residual sugar that you taste on the end of the tongue), and fruit-forward or earthy (lots of wines have both, I'm speaking of the main "vibe" you get from the wine). When I talk about acid level, just see if the wine makes your mouth water after a couple of seconds. The more it does, the more acid it usually has in it. As you progress in your wine tasting life, you will get better at sensing acid level, oak, and alcohol levels.

There are two main thoughts in food and wine pairing. The first I will talk about today, and the second later in the week. The first main theory is to pair "likes". This means to pair food with wines that are like it. If you have a rich, creamy dish, pair it with a rich, buttery wine (say, California Chardonnay). If you have spicy food, go spicy wine (gewurtztraminer) likewise with sweet foods, high acid foods, etc. For example, the next time you have the opportunity, try this with a typical salad with Italian dressing. The lettuce is pretty neutral, so don't worry about it. The dressing is made with oil and vinegar- being a very high acid item. In order for a wine to match this dressing, it needs to have a lot of acid, too. Taste something like a sauvignon blanc with it, as well as a merlot. You will notice that the acidity and citrus notes in the sauvy play with the dressing on your tongue- this is a good pairing. On the other hand, the merlot and the dressing will be a train wreck. The dressing will make the merlot taste flabby and bitter- this is not a good pairing.
Along these same lines, try to pick out one thing in the dish that really stands out, and match that with a particular taste in a wine. If you are having a filet with a mushroom sauce, look at something with an earthy, mushroomy taste- maybe a red Burgundy. If you are having some Salmon with a mango salsa, try Torrontes. See, this isn't too hard!

A quick note about sweet foods. I am a firm believer that when it comes to desserts, the wine should be sweeter than the food you are serving it with. One of the most popular combinations of sweet foods with wine is wedding cake with Champagne. Most of the time, it tastes horrible together because the sweet cake makes the dry bubbly wine taste bad.

One helpful resource for this is a book called "What to Drink With What You Eat", or just do what my dad does- call me. I will go ahead and list some of my favorite food and beverage pairings, as well as some that are difficult:

Asparagus- Notoriously hard to pair wine with, try a sauvignon blanc, or a coulee de serrant (if you can find one)

Tex/mex- Usually spicy, try riesling or gewurtztraminer. This is an instance where you're honestly better off drinking margaritas, beer, or pepsi

Chinese takeout- Gewurtztraminer!

Foie Gras- drink sauternes, or a late harvest riesling

Potato Chips- Champagne. Seriously.

Pulled pork- try with some port (matches bbq sauce really well), or beer.

Fruit Loops Cereal- Coffee, just seeing if you were paying attention.

So, go out this week, mess around with this, and let me know of your hits, and misses!

Today's wine pairing comes from South Australia- the 2006 Jim Barry Cover Drive Cabernet- This is a great value cab that has hints of black cherry, cassis, and a dose of eucalyptus. It pairs well with Kangaroo Steaks.

Until next time, Cheers!

1 comment:

  1. Really informative and easy to follow. Love the wine suggestions for the odd food items - I tend to default to beer for all of those :)