True story: when I was in college I used to pair my wine with Goldfish. While I’m not saying that unique wine pairings aren’t amazing in their own right, I’ve come a long way since my days of combining Moscato and cheesy fish-shaped crackers. As an avid wine drinker (and wannabe chef), I love trying out delicious new wine and food pairings. Through plenty of trial and error, I’ve learned that there is such a thing as finding the perfect wine to pair with your meal. And yes, it makes a world of difference.
Think outside the plate
The most important thing to remember when selecting a wine is choosing something that pairs well with your dish’s preparation, not just the protein. Yes, the age-old fish and white wine match up is generally a safe bet, but there’s no guarantee all white wines will perfectly pair with all fish dishes.
Be mindful of your meal’s preparation method (grilled, poached, baked, stewed, barbequed, fried) and think about the sauces you use. If you’re serving up roasted chicken with lemon butter sauce over a potato and cauliflower puree, think about the components that make that dish delicious. Bypass your “I know exactly what goes with chicken” presumptions and think about the citric lemon flavors or the creamy, buttery cauliflower. Remember to evaluate all components in your dish before settling for a subpar standby.
Opposites attract … or maybe they don’t
Unlike some things in life, the rule of thumb “opposites attract” isn’t always true for food and wine pairings. Sometimes, the best pairing is the one where the food and wine have similar taste profiles. Ever heard of pairing of Sauvignon Blanc and goat cheese? This classic pairing is beloved by many for a very good reason, even though they have similar flavor characteristics. The high acidity in the wine compliments the salty acidic taste that the cheese leaves in your mouth. Pairing like with like, also known as mirroring, is a simple trick winos use to pick a wine for an entrée. Essentially, the flavors in the wine should reflect the flavors in the food. If you pick a wine that has similar flavor characteristics as your meal, the main flavors will complement each other.
Broaden your palate by matching other wines and foods that have similar tastes. Next time you cook that pork roast with blueberry sauce, try pairing it with a Merlot that also has dark berry tastes. The combination of the similar flavors will feel crisp and fresh. Trust me, you’ll be much happier with these combinations than my college-self was with the dynamic Goldfish and Moscato duo.
While similar tastes go well together, sometimes the age-old saying “opposites attract” works even better. Take your favorite spicy Chinese dish for example. The next time you order your takeout, think about chilling a bottle of your favorite sweet Riesling in the fridge first. The sweet wine will counteract the spiciness of your dish, cooling your mouth from the heat of the food. This sweet and spicy combo goes for more than just Chinese and Riesling, too. Spicy tacos go great with sweet wine. It might sound a bit weird to combine tacos with anything other than margs (tell me about it, I feel like I’m cheating on margs every time I pick wine instead) but the wine will feel way more refreshing than your strawberry margarita ever did.
What grows together goes together
Certain wines became popular in specific regions centuries ago because they paired so well with the crops and goods produced in that area. Considering that the grapes grew amongst the same soil as the local vegetation, you can almost never go wrong with a classic regional pairing. Always consider the terroir of the dish you’re pairing with. Think about its sense of place.
Eating spaghetti bolognese with bright and acidic tomato sauce? Reach for a Chianti Classico from Tuscany. Noshing on oysters or seafood? Try pairing the dish with an Albariño from the Rías Baixas coastline. Following this “grows together goes together” method will transform your dinner into a culinary masterpiece.
While I usually love the “rules are meant to be broken” notion, some wine and food pairing principles are just meant to be followed. Foods like steak or bacon need acidity to cut through the fat and cleanse your palate. Pairing these meats with Aglianico or a smoky Syrah will leave your mouth refreshed and thirsting for the next bite. Similarly, rich dishes with alfredo sauce or gravy require wines high in tannins for the same palate-cleansing effect. Foods rich with sugar will always need a wine that’s equally as sweet. Pair your crème brûlée (or boxed chocolate cake) with a sweet Riesling or Moscato to avoid a bitter aftertaste.
Break away from your dorm room standards, and leave the days of pairing wine with whatever you found in the back of your pantry behind. Wine and food are meant to be enjoyed together. If you pair them properly, you’ll enhance the flavors and make both even more delicious. Cheers!