Pairing food with wine is, obviously, intimidating as hell. I was just reading an article on pairing foods with Champagnes and two paragraphs in, it got confusing. One major takeaway: oysters go well with a non-vintage Blanc de Blancs, and even a Premier Cru Brut Nature.
What the hell?
Now, don’t get me wrong. For the wine freaks and geeks of the world, including myself, this is article is awesome. And this is one thing great about the wine world. There’s no such thing as going “too deep” into wine. You’ve got many options to maximize your flavor profile potential.
But what if you’re just looking for an everyday wine? Perhaps you’re going to your friend’s barbecue tomorrow and you want to look a little fancy by pairing a nice red with those ribs he’s grilling? Or perhaps you want to reach the level of knowledge to properly pair oysters with Blanc de Blancs, but don’t know where to start.
As a result, I came up with three themes that can help you make better decisions on wine purchases. I will be diving into greater detail on each theme and providing some more examples on further blogs. Let’s check them out!
Firstly, not only am I trying to share my expertise, but I’m writing these blogs to further develop my wine skills as well. I may say a thing or two that I will correct later. I still, however, remain confident in my abilities!
Secondly, for this particular blog article, I am relying on two sources to write with substance:
Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food by Evan Goldstein, MS; and Joyce Goldstein.
What to Drink with What You Eat by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page.
Indeed, these are two definitive sources on food and wine pairing. Read them!
1) The end goal of wine pairing is to maximize your enjoyment of the food and wine.
Pairing is about providing a great sensory experience for you by bringing together the best flavors out of wine and food. Remember how I said there is no such thing about getting too deep into wine? There is no shortage of flavor profiles that may share a wine’s notes or compliment the wine paired.
Wines with earthy notes go with earthy food, creamy notes with creamy food, etc. Sauvignon Blanc and its herb notes match well with basil. Chardonnay’s rich creamy notes pair perfectly with delicate shellfish; as well as ingredients like cream, butter, and goat cheese.
You can learn the basics by pairing wine with cheese. Wine Folly has a great article on this: https://winefolly.com/tutorial/12-classic-wine-and-cheese-pairings-you-have-to-try/
2) It’s all about balance.
Essentially, you want to ensure your wine doesn’t overpower your food, and vice versa. For example, pairing delicate seafood with Syrah (a dry, heavy, bold-as-hell red) probably isn’t the best idea. I mean, you just spent a lot of money on that lobster. You’re not gonna be able to taste its buttery goodness! On the other hand, as much as you love your Sauvignon Blanc, you can’t enjoy it with that steak you’re grilling as well as you could if chicken with basil was on your grill instead.
Additionally, pairing often means mellowing powerful flavors. A great example of this is that sweet wines pair amazingly with spicy foods. Many Asian cuisines are spicy enough to benefit from pairing a sweet wine to counter chili heat. You may notice plum wine is typically on Japanese restaurants’ wine lists, and it is extremely sweet.
3) You’re the ultimate judge on wine pairing.
By and large this is really what it all boils down to. Ask yourself these questions: Did you like this pairing? Have you had another wine that is better with this dish? Is there something you’d like to try? Hell, are you at home and this is all you had? Or are you at a restaurant and this is the best they had to offer? These circumstances are all okay!
To quote one winery owner, everyone’s palates are a little different. In fact, did you know everyone has a unique tongue print? Some people eat sushi until they get mercury poisoning (like me), and some people (like my late grandmother) vomit at the sight of it. Some people enjoy onions, and others ask the cook to hold them. You have to discover what tastes best to you.
Above all, wine pairings are suggestions, or rather, encouragements. But that doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy what you typically enjoy. Food and wine pairings simply are there to try and maximize what may taste good, and help people avoid creating a bad flavor combination—whatever that may or may not be in your opinion. In other words, pairings aren’t hard and fast rules to tasting, and what may taste good to an expert may actually taste terrible for you. While most people may like something, that doesn’t guarantee you’ll follow the rest of the bandwagon. And there are always some strange exceptions to the rule.