Wine and Food Pairing 101

First off, Should a wine be matched up to a dish? or should a dish be made just to pair up with the wine?

Well, that all depends.  If your best friend is getting a promotion at work that comes with a big bonus, he then decides to invite you over for dinner and plans to pop his Vintage Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon, then by all mean you should create a dish just to go with it – fat juicy goodness Rib-eye steaks might do, but for Screaming Eagle wine! only grade A5 Kobe beef could do it justice.  In a different scenario, the same best friend of yours got a box of fresh Maine lobster.  He plans to poach them in butter with a cream sauce finish, and called you over for dinner; now you have to find a wine to match up with his dish, full-body buttery Chardonnay ought to do the trick.

oysters on the half-shells

Salty Food with Tangy wine

Most wine, even some dry ones, carry a small amount of residual sugar.  When pair with salty food, the saltiness heightens the subtle sweetness in the wine, making it tastier.  Champagne, other than its bubbles, is known for having very vibrant acidity, pairing it with fresh oysters and caviar is a classic. 

Panseared scallops (salted both sides) go extremely well with Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, the caramelized saltiness brings out a tropical sensation from the Sauvignon Blanc while complimenting its faint sweetness.  

Grilled Mussels

Light dishes with lighter wine

This pairing focuses rather on structure than taste.  Dishes such as poached fish or white fish sashimi can easily be overpowered by most wine, even by white wines like an oaky Chardonnay.  Instead, pairing them with lighter wine create better harmony and preserve both flavor and taste.  Albarino from Rias Baixas, Spain and Italian Pinot Grigio are great choices for delicate seafood dishes.

4.  Earthy dishes with earthy wine

Mushrooms have long been favorites either by themselves as Hors d’oeuvre or part of a dish.  Mushroom thrive in moist condition and close to the ground, they take on pretty much the flavor of the environment they grew in, very earthy.  When it comes to earthiness, a wine that immediately comes to mind is Pinot Noir, especially Old World Pinot Noir from Burgundy.  Other alternatives could be Garnache from Priorat, Spain or Chianti from Tuscany, Italy.

Spicy dishes with sweet wine

When your mouth is on fire, taking a sip of Syrah or tannic Cabernet Sauvignon is very much like putting salt on an open wound, it would not go well.  Sweet wines served chilled would be great with spicy food.  German Riesling and Moscato are longterm partners with spicy Asian food.

beef stew with shaved parmesanHeavy dishes with robust wines

Again, this goes back to pairing structure of wine, as opposed to tastes.  Heavy dishes can overpower a lot of wines, even red wine.  Butter poached lobsters is a very thick dish, with a lot of fat coming from butter and cream, a robust Napa Valley Oaky Chardonnay would be the only white wine big enough to combat this dish.  Same goes for beef stew, rich stock makes for tasty bite but unless paired with more robust such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Gran Reserva Spanish Tempranillo, it will likely make most wine taste like water.

Desserts with sweet wines

This is a no-brainer.  Desserts have the highest sugar content, once your palate experience such sweet, it will stay spoiled for a longtime, nothing else will taste good other than more sweet.  Sweet wines, like Sauternes and German ice wine, have enough residual sugar to compete with any sweet desserts. 

For the health-conscious low sugar desserts, although less sugar but they are still relatively sweet, sweet wines still would be the way to go, just not too sweet of wine,  a late harvest Riesling isn’t a bad choice.  Sweet wines do come with different level of sweetness.

Next time dinning out at a restaurant, you might still consult the waiter for a wine to pair with your favorite dish, but with these easy concepts, you would probably have already made your decision on it.  Take a bite of your food, then a sip of your wine, and after each time, you couldn’t help yourself but to repeat that again and again, then you’ll know.  Cheers!

Thomas Le, CS.

 

 

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Thomas Le

-Certified Sommelier (CMS)

Napa Reserva -Falling for wine, one sip at a time. TM

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