Choosing the Perfect Pairing Wine
Written by Rob Elvy
I get asked by restaurant staff and private buyers alike, how can I pick the perfect wine to pair with my favourite dishes? Not to capitulate to technology but we do live in the digital age so why not google it? So I did just that and to my surprise I discovered that the phrase “rules for food and wine pairings” was often employed by various sources. Rules? … mmm … rules? Really? What happens if the suggestion happens to be a style or grape type you don’t like? Well if you don’t like always following rules, here are a few tips on making the best wine selection to fit your palate.
My first suggestion is drink what you like. Historically we have always thought of pairing white wines with fish and white meats, while serving red wines with red meat and game dishes. Interesting enough this approach is still followed by consumers and restaurant recommendations alike. The problem with this approach is obvious, what if you do not enjoy white wines? Sweet wines? Oaky wines? Perhaps a better strategy would be to pair wines based on their style. That is, light bodied wines with delicate dishes and full bodied wines with richer, heavier dishes. So if you like white wines and plan on enjoying some braised meat then open up a full bodied wine. Alternatively, as a lover of red wine, if you plan on grilling some seafood then look for a lighter, fresher style of red wine. While you should never resort to being told what wines you ought to like, it is equally important to keep an open mind about trying something new. What I like about the contemporary restaurant scene is that sommeliers are much more adventurous in their wine selections giving you the opportunity to experiment with wines you have never before tried.
My second suggestion is to drink what you eat. I know that is sounds obvious but I have often thought that when you eat Italian drink Italian. Having cassoulet for dinner? Then pick out a classic French wine. The reason for this is that wines are often designed to be consumed by the food reflecting their local traditional cuisine. Of course this strategy does prove to be a challenge when eating the cornucopia of ethnic food choices especially from locales not known for wine. One can also look for pairing “clues”. For example, if you are enjoying a seafood dinner then look for wines from coastal plantings.
All of this is not to say that classic pairings do not work. My final suggestion is to follow the classic pairings. Think Chablis with oysters, Chianti with pasta, off-dry whites with spicy foods, and sparkling wines with everything! The key factor here is that wine and food should be partners never overpowering the other. This simple condition relies on wine being well balanced itself – that is refreshing acidity to balance out fruit and if relevant, oak. If the wine is not well balanced then what it is paired with is rather irrelevant. Determine the dominant flavour in the food and try to match wine characteristics with those flavours. At the end of the day you really cannot go wrong when you enjoy your favourite dish with your favourite wine.