“Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners”.
This aphorism underscores the symbiotic relationship between food and wine: a combination that, when at its best, is supposed to create an enhancing balance of both performers.
That in the American culture we must have a didactic dialog regarding wine with food while in most other wine producing countries this is self-evident is a matter for a different conversation. Nonetheless, wine, as the ultimate “food condiment”, deserves our attention via some basic knowledge of how is it that it works with different meals. As you read on you will learn that we do not need those convoluted algorithms to learn which are the combinations that work.
As it turns out, there are very few wine and food combos that are atrociously unappetizing. In other words, most matches tend to fluctuate between the sublime and the “ok”. Here’s a quick foolproof way for coming up with the different food and wine matches you may want to pursuit.
1. Let your wine mirror the weight and body of your dish: This is easy and the most important thing to keep in mind. I mean, we all can agree that a flaky poached fish has a lighter weight and body than a seared
bone-in ribeye. Bear in mind that the weight and body of the dish can be affected by the cooking method (what if the fish is blackened?) and, to a great extent, the sauces (what if the fish now has BBQ sauce?). Even when there are several things going on in the plate, you will have a sense of who’s the main ingredient that “driving the bus”.
2. Let your wine bridge the flavors of your dish: If your meal is a peppery steak au poivre, perhaps what you need is a peppery wine such as Syrah. If the tomato sauce is acidic, maybe you want to compliment that with an acidic Chianti. A Latin dish with savory herbs? No problem. Try a savory wine like a Chilean Carmenere
3. Let your wine contrast the flavors of your dish: Sometimes the best match is the one that “cuts” through your dishes overriding mouth feel. For instance, when eating creamy cheeses, a nicely acidic white is just the thing. When it comes to palate cleansing this is where sparkling wines can shine! I tell you…try some bubbles with flan.
There are also time tested “rules” that are pretty much fail proof.
1. Drink and eat dishes of similar provenance. This is particularly true for Europe and South America. What do Argentines, arguably the meat experts of the world, drink with their steaks? Malbec. What’s a beautiful match for the seafood of Galicia, Spain? Albariño. What’s a fantastic partner for goat cheese? The Sauvignon Blanc of the Loire Valley.
2. The wine should be more acidic than the food. Think of how a lemon squeeze turbocharges the flavors in just about anything. Thus, when talking about “food friendly wines”, this often refers to wines with bright acidity that are not overly tannic.
3. The wine should be sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise, the wine will taste bland. This is why for the life of me I cannot understand where this wine and chocolate match s from?!
4. Tannins will augment hot and spicy…but some people actually love this.
Here’s the thing. This ought to be a fun process fueled by curiosity. Do you really want to always have the same match? Will they all equally work? No, not really. Think of this a dating for your palate: sometimes you are the actress who marries handsome Brad Pitt (only to be divorced soon after) and sometimes you are the supermodel who marries not so good looking Ric Ocasek (RIP).
At the end, the ultimate food and wine pairing recommendation dwells on how I would answer George Karlin’s question: “What wine goes with Captain Crunch?”
Drink what YOU like!
Lorenzo, the wine guy
Friends, food, and wine...I'm happy there.