Classic Food & Wine Pairings Tips – Are They Still Relevant?
Ten or fifteen years ago it was quite easy to pair food and wine. We learned to pair chicken and fish with a white wine; and beef and pork with a red.
Today, food has become more complex with a mix of unusual ingredients. There are numerous combinations of sauces and exotic proteins served together. Fish may be topped with a tomato and caper relish, served on a bed of red lentils or miso-glazed pork may accompany shitake mushrooms, drizzled with port.
Americans’ wine tastes have also broadened. No longer are wine drinkers sticking to the tried-and-true choices such as Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and White Zinfandel. Wines from New World regions such as Chile, New Zealand and South Africa are frequently listed on wine lists and are readily available in stores.
Sommeliers have added wines from Greece, Croatia or Israel to their wine lists. Bison, ostrich, kangaroo and other unique proteins have become commonplace on fine dining menus. This gives the diner a multitude of options for pairing with meals. And the choices can be daunting.
Given the shift in the food and wine scene of today, let’s examine if the old wine pairing adages of the past are still relevant.
1. The color of the wine must match the color of the food
- Yes. When in doubt, you can still use this old axiom. Serving white wine with chicken and red with beef can hold true; but it’s not very exciting.
- But there are certainly exceptions to this long-quoted rule. For instance, a Viognier or Chardonnay can pair nicely with veal. The acidity in these wines cuts through the slight fattiness of the beef, creating a beautiful pairing.
2. The weight of food and wine must match (This means heavy vs. light.)
- Yes, this is certainly true. Foods that match each other in weight will typically balance each other, eliminating the battle of one overpowering the other. Think Brad and Angelina, two mega stars, coexisting.
- Here are some examples of food weights ranging from lowest to highest – Salad, Starchy foods, Seafood, Poultry, Pork and Beef. So you’d match a wine with the “weightiness” of the meat dish.
- Now check out a few wine weights ranging from lowest to highest – Sparkling wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Sangiovese, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- But it can get tricky. A lot will depend on viticulture methods. For example, an oaky California Chardonnay will be heavier in weight than an unoaked Australian Chardonnay.
- Consider a traditional méthode champenoise made from Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Pinot Meunier. It’ll be bursting with hearty sur lees aging, making it weightier than a Loire Valley Chenin Blanc crémant. This particular sparkling is produced using Sauvignon Blanc only. Crémant is the name given to sparkling wines produced outside of the Champagne region.
In Part 2 of 3 in this Food & Wine Pairing Tips series, I’ll address the role of geography in pairing, as well as matching vegetables with the proper wine. See you next #WineWednesday.