Wine Pairing Tips
Curious about how to pair your food with wine? Or your wine with food? Read these quick tips from Holly Howell on choosing the best combination for your dinner or heck— even your lunch!
WHICH CAME FIRST?
Do you choose wine to go with your food? Or food to go with your wine? For many chefs, the flavors of the food dictate the wine to serve. Yet for winemakers and wine lovers, the wine might just spark the process, followed by the food that will best bring out its flavors.
Either way, the ideal match should allow both the flavors of the wine and the flavors of the food to remain distinct, without one overwhelming the other. The combined flavors of both should be greater than the sum of their parts. Some combinations can explode with new flavors that weren’t present in either the wine or the food on its own. In those moments, we experience what many call a culinary epiphany.
THE CHEESE AND WINE CONNECTION
Perhaps the best illustration of the local food and wine flavor connection is a simple cheese and wine pairing. The grapes get their flavor characteristics from the minerals in the soil in which the vines grow. The animals whose milk becomes cheese—cows, goats, sheep— graze on grasses, plants and herbs that grow from the same soils.
In addition to goat cheese, aged cheddars are more avail- able now. Cabernet Franc is a perfect match. These harder, nuttier cheeses can handle tannins in the red wine and provide a salty counterpoint to the sweet, dark berry fruit notes in the wine.
COOKING WITH WINE
Many recipes call for wine as an ingredient. Inevitably, you can count on that same wine
to be a very good pairing for the final dish. For example, a cheese fondue cooked with Riesling goes perfectly well with a chilled glass of the same. Even though the alcohol cooks off in the dish, the inherent flavors of the wine remain and bridge naturally with the wine that you are drinking. They say you should never cook with a wine that you wouldn’t drink. It doesn’t have to be expensive, but the better the wine you use, the better the flavors will be on your plate.
FIT YOUR FOOD AND WINE TOGETHER
A simple way to choose a wine that will complement your meal is to think Flavor, Intensity and Texture—FIT.
Consider the flavors. For a lemon-thyme butter sauce on scallops, pick a wine with a hint of citrus (lemon) to connect with the food, like Sauvignon Blanc. The intensity of your food is the concentration of flavors on the plate. Neither food nor wine should overwhelm the other. Pinot Gris balances sautéed lake trout. A rich Merlot holds up to a pan-seared duck breast in cherry sauce.
Measure texture in terms of body. If your food is lean and light, your best bet is a light- bodied wine like a dry Riesling. If your food has a moderate amount of richness, go with a medium-bodied wine like Seyval Blanc. If the dish swims in butter and cream, bring in a full- bodied, oak-aged Chardonnay.
Holly Howell is a Rochester-based wine writer and educator.
The above is excerpted from a larger story in our 2011 Wine Issue, available to subscribers on our online archive.