Wine & Food Pairing: An introduction and rationale.
Quick Brief: Food and wine are incredibly inter-related reflected over centuries in absolutely every culture. Generally, there’s a reason that the wines made in any given area pair so well with the local cuisine. That’s how and why this basic mantra became the foundation wine country learning block and continues to this day: “If it grows together, it goes together.”
Over the last 25 years as more and more people (especially women) embraced wine and were discovering wines they liked, they were also discovering the best foods to pair with their new wine favorites.
In the “Beginning”: The misleading pairing guideline was simple: “reds go with meats and whites go with veggies, fish and seafood”. All well and good but it so vastly underestimated the complementary enhancement that food and wine shared in one’s dining experience. And it took away from the fun and adventure of discovering new wine-food combinations. Finally, let us not forget: the chance to impress one’s dinner guests or business associates at lunch.
Foodies & Creative Chefs: And since the early 2000’s, the food world was changing and as the term “foodie” emerged reflecting that group’s serious interest in all kinds of food, chefs were making very creative changes to classic recipes and with it the need for additional ways to determine which wine type went with which variation on a theme.
Congruent: So, the next platforms of decision-pairing came to the fore: congruent – matching similar flavors such as acidic or sweeter wines with similar foods or…
Contrasting: Think fatty foods with acidic wine and spicy foods with sweeter wines.
Vegan: But what if you are a vegan and don’t necessarily like white wine, what do you do? Out of the shadows a variation on a theme was preached – Choose your wine based on acidic, sweet or spicy flavors of the sauce for your menu items as reflected in congruent or contrasting pairing.
Bubbly: Finally, what so few people think about except for holiday turkey, prime rib etc. pairings typically associated with Thanksgiving or Christmas, Hannukah or Easter is Bubbly. Yes, Sparkling Wines, Prosecco, Cava and Champagne can be your trusted go-to pairing partner because they are more food-friendly than many still wines.
Before we give you choices that we recommend for a range of dining options , let’s review wine and food pairing trends.
The Old Rules:
- Reds go with meats; whites go with fish, seafood & veggies.
- Congruent – matching wines & food with similar flavor profiles (acidic, sweet, bitter).
- Contrasting – matching wines & food with opposing flavor profiles (acidic, sweet, bitter).
- Sauces – applying the approach from 2 & 3 above to the sauces on your menu items.
- When stymied or just adventurous – A Sparkler is always safe and can turn an ok meal into a celebratory event!
The New Rule:
- Forget Rules 1-5 and drink what you like when you like. We also try to imbue this lesson in our clients’ simple wine tasting experiences: you don’t have to like a wine because a famed wine critic said it was great. Only you and your palette should be your final judge!
Range of Food & Wine Pairing Options
The following recommendations – supported by multiple sources – will in fact add to your dining experience. Final choice should reflect any sauce or spices used in food prep; how food is cooked (fried, roasted, grilled etc.); and, of course, your personal wine preference or what you have available in your home wine inventory!
- Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Merlot, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. White Burgundy, Red Burgundy, White Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Chianti, Rioja
Duck: Right Bank Merlot-focused Bordeaux blend, Burgundy or Pinot Noir – (options depend on sauce)
- Zinfandel (options also depend on sauce), Merlot, Sangiovese, Primitivo, or Syrah.
- White, Rose’ or a Pinot Noir, Valpolicella or even a Zinfandel – choice depends on sauce or seasoning.
Beef / Lamb:
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Gamay, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Bordeaux, Cotes de Rhone, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Supertuscan (Maremma) blends, Priorat, Rioja Reserva
Red Sauce Pasta:
- Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Syrah Beaujolais Cru, Chianti, Barbera d’Alba
White Sauce Pastas:
- Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Grillo, Vermentino Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, White Graves, Sauternes, White Burgundy, Chablis
Salads / Vegetarian:
- Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc Rose d’Anjou or Provence, Beaujolais Nouveau, White Entre-deux-Mers, Muscadet
Hamburgers / BBQ:
- Gamay, Grenache, Merlot, Syrah, Zinfandel Cotes de Rhone, red Chateauneuf
- Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Grenache, Syrah, Sauternes, and of course, a off dry Riesling
Chinese / Thai
- Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines
- Gewurztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Sparkling Wines and Pinot Noir Muscadet de Sevre et Maine, White Graves, Sauternes, White Burgundy, Chablis
- if fish, the firmer the texture, a firmer wine – ex. Salmon/Swordfish, go Chardonnay or Pinot Noir.
- If delicate or flaky like a Branzino or Dover Sole, go with a Grillo, Vermentino, Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
- Lobster Roll – Chardonnay, Vermentino, Grillo, Gruner Veltliner, or Spanish Verdejo Crab cakes or Ceviche – Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre
- Shrimp Cocktail or Fish & Chips – a dry sparkling wine
- Mussels typically with a white wine sauce – enjoy a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
Popular Food Favorites and the Wines that Make Them Even Better: (Pizza, Wings, Fried Chicken, and Burgers…)
- Tomato based love medium-bodied reds or Italian rose’
- Meat, tomato and cheese bigger and bolder reds work best. Here’s a wine you might not know but our Chairman does, and he loves it: Anglianico
- Margherita: using your “congruent” pairing, try a Sangiovese for an acidity match-up.
- White pizza with cheese, veggies like arugula and Prosciutto; or peppers & onions; or mushrooms and artichokes (always tough!): an inexpensive but high-quality Prosecco will work well.
- Hot wings go well with sweeter wines which offset the spicy taste and flavors.
- Mild to Moderate Hot pair very well with a full-bodied wine such as a Merlot or go with an Italian Rose’
- Smoked Wings pair with peppery, jammy wines like Zinfandel or Grenache
- Jerk Wings which are of course usually hot and spicy are complemented by a rose
- And yes, you could always choose a good Prosecco for the acid cutting bubbles and the sweetness factor. Source: Glass Half Full
- Aren’t you happy you clicked on this link: fried chicken is a favorite across our country and wherever you go you can expect a debate as to which style and preparation is best, but for dining pleasure you’ve got two winning choices:
- A Dry Riesling that offers a touch of fruit sweetness balanced by minerality and acidity to combat the chicken’s fat (dark meat) and oiliness. Great choices range from Washington or New York State and Austria or Germany.
- A sparkling wine that offers the same taste values as a Riesling.
- Meat needs a red here, but the add-ons can change your final pairing choice…
- Big Mac* – Try a Pinot Noir. It will bring your burger up another level.
- Cheeseburger with or without bacon needs a Cabernet Sauvignon or a bold red blend.
- In-N-Out Double Double* with grilled onions beg for a Beaujolais region Gamay.
- French Fries call for a sparkler such as a Prosecco.
- *Big Mac and Double Doubles are Trademarks of McDonald’s and In-N-Out respectively.