Food, Wine & Perfect Pairings: How To Play Cupid With Your Food
What I Learned About The Harmony Of Food & Wine, & Perfect Pairings
Be in harmony, yet be different.
The right partnerships can make all of the difference between a life well-lived and one suffered.
Think of the difference between Ben and Jerry and then David and Goliath. The former made for a gloriously chunky monkey, half baked partnership; the latter, well someone ended up dead.
Whether it’s the right partnership in love (for example, not Sonny and Cher), or in a job (not, say, Edward Snowden and the US Government), or in school (Albert Einstein and just about every school he went to serving as a not-so-perfect pairing), finding a relationship where each of the participants is not only supported by the other but where their best qualities are amplified without harming each other, is critical to enjoying a harmonious and stress-free life.
Harmony in any relationship, therefore, is the name of our life’s game.
And for anyone who loves either food or wine—and where playing Cupid in their relationship is not only a pastime as quintessential as American baseball, but the success of which can take the individual food and wine to cosmic heights together—learning how to create harmonious relationships is core curriculum.
So, in an effort to put to good use the time and money I spent becoming a sommelier, one of the regular contributions I wish to make to our growing community is to share examples of food I have personally prepared and paired with wine I have personally imbibed.
Pairings that are not exclusive to where I live or where I have been, and where, if your mouth begins to salivate some while reading my descriptions, you can, wherever you happen to be at the moment, drive to your nearest grocery store and wine seller and make your own delicious version of my pairing. Simply, and without excessive expense.
After all, what good is someone’s recommendation if it is either unaffordable or inaccessible?
Tips For Pairing Food & Wine
There is no shortage of articles on the web about how to pair food and wine, along with recommendations for every food and wine you can think of—as well as those you’ve never heard of or will ever find in any of the places that sell wine within a fifty mile radius of you.
When I was first getting interested in wine, I would cut from the Wall Street Journal the weekly wine recommendations and take them to my local wine shop excited to experience what I just read about.
It really was something that 100% of the time for the months I did this the wine shop NEVER had the wine. My first wine lesson, it turned out, was that the Wall Street Journal’s audience was not an audience for my local wine shop.
The world is much different today with the ability and ease of ordering wine online, from either distributors in the US or your favorite producer thousands of miles away in another country.
And I don’t pretend that what you are about to read here is any better (or worse, for that matter) than anything else you are going to find on the web.
That in and of itself will be a constant obsession of mine as I continue this experiment in sharing my thoughts, opinions and experiences with you—ensuring that what I share is unique enough to be worth your time in reading.
Like any other “perfect pairing,” I wish for you and I to always claim harmony, and never be “off” (like the way pickles on a cheeseburger will destroy any wine you attempt to pair with it).
So here I am going to simply introduce a few tips in order to get you ready for what I hope to be a once weekly food/wine pairing recommendation. Something we have actually made at home (and love) and not just something “the rules” say are a good pairing.
And I promise that if what you read here you are interested in, then you’ll 100% of the time be able to travel to your local wine shop and grocery story and go home that day with exactly what you need to create magic in your kitchen, and in your mouth (no Wall Street Journal pretentiousness here).
Before starting this post, in order to see what I was up against I did a quick search on “food and wine rules”. Eight simple rules… Six simple steps… The fifteen rules for… Your guide to… Best pairing for… My god, there are enough lists out there for us to make a list of the top lists.
While in wine school I was always trying to reduce things down to just exactly what I needed to know at the time. There is so much information, so many interesting paths and stories you can follow like Alice in your own wonderland of wine and food history, that it is easy to spend your valuable and limited time learning what will not serve you on that final (challenging) exam.
So, when it came to pairing rules I reduced them down to this:
Let’s explore each part of my rules reduction for a little bit, as we are going to return to this with each of our upcoming perfect pairings.
Pairing Like With Like
If the food is simple (for example, a BLT) pair it with a simple wine (for example, an inexpensive Rose or Pinot Noir, and by “inexpensive” we mean anything you wouldn’t cry about dropping in the parking lot and have to go back inside and buy another bottle of).
If the food is great (for example, your late grandmother’s secret recipe for whatever she was universally known for and emotionally and psychologically missed for today) pair it with a great wine ( treat your grandmother’s legacy to something better than the $8 bottle of whatever swill is on the bottle shelf at the grocery store).
If the food is expensive (for example, you splurged on a good steak), then pair it with a (more) expensive (than you are typically buying) wine (in other words, be consistent with your splurge…spending a fortune on dinner and then pairing it with the Two Buck Chuck from Trader Joe’s is like proposing to the girl of your dreams and then taking her to McDonald’s to celebrate off of the dollar menu.
Not that there is anything wrong with the McDonald’s dollar menu with the girl of your dreams, but on this particular day you should want to dine elsewhere).
If the food is from a particular country, (say, a bowl of Italian spaghetti and meatballs), pair it with a wine from that country (like a Chianti).
If the food comes from a specific region (for example, one of the small villages of Serralunga d’Alba in Piedmont, Italy where we adore Paolo Manzone’s wine, and even more so Paolo himself), pair it with a wine from that region (like, with no surprise here, Paolo Manzone’s Barolo).
If the food is rich and creamy (say, a Fettuccine Alfredo), get a rich and creamy wine to drink with it (like a Chardonnay).
If the food is fruity (like the baked pork chops we recently made with an apple and cherry chutney), go with a wine that is more fruit-driven than earthy (a Zinfandel from California will compliment better here than a Spanish Rioja, as it is more fruit driven).
Lastly, a sweet dessert will sing in your mouth a tune you will want to play on endless loop if you have a wine sweeter than the dessert itself (e.g. a flourless chocolate cake will rock a guitar solo better with a Late Bottled Vintage Port than with a Tawny Port)…a case of LIKE and EVEN MORE LIKE
Unless You Are Going Opposite
If the food is spicy (something with, for example, Thai chilies), a sweet wine (like an off-dry Riesling) will meld those two flavors together in a way that reminds you of how milk and cookies should never be left without each other.
If the food has some salt (think parmesan cheese, cured meats, pizza and pasta sauces), wines that have either good acidity or some residual sugar (just a little sweetness) work to temper the saltiness in the food the way your life partner tempers the aggressiveness that may have gotten you that promotion at work but is about to get you into a fight at the bar.
Some wines you likely have heard of with good acidity are Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling (for whites) and Pinot Noir and Chianti (for reds). Some wines with more sweetness are Riesling and Moscato (for white) and Gamay (the grape used in Beaujolais Nouveau) and Port wine (for red).
Always Drink What You Enjoy
And the last part means that no matter what the rules say, if you like something that breaks the rules, that offends every sensibility of a student or teacher of wine, then by all means break the damn rules. (a habit also quite helpful outside of wine).
So get ready for some our favorite perfect pairings.
We plan to begin posting them on our social channels which you can find if you scroll to the bottom of this page (and which we would both love and greatly appreciate if you followed us on them; shared them with your friends, family and coworkers; and if you feel like contributing to them, add your comments).
And if there is sufficient interest, we may look to add them here to our website in a dedicated section devoted to all things harmonious and delicious.
Lastly, if you are looking for what to pair with your next meal and care to know what we would love to drink with you if invited (ahem!), let us know in the comments!
Looking forward to sharing with you what gets us, and keeps us, hungry!
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