We’ve all heard it: Pizza loves beer and vice versa. It’s a popular combo for a good reason. It works. The wine world isn’t quite as straight ahead when it comes to matching wine with food, but it can be even more rewarding taste-wise. There are as many opinions on how to match what you’re drinking with what you’re eating as there are labels. It’s a big, fun, conversation- promoting topic. This article is a point to help you explore your own preferences. Incorporate the techniques that make sense to your taste buds, keeping in mind that with all things culinary, it’s all about the art and personal taste.
The High School Approach
No, I’m not advocating underage drinking. On the contrary! But I am suggesting that some of what you learned in high school can apply here. Do you remember high school essays that often had the theme of ‘compare and contrast’? It’s really not so different with wine. In general, wines will either have similar profiles and comparable flavors to a dish, or be radically different to bring out the distinctly different elements of each. Some Italian restaurants have bottles of chianti on the tables. Tomato-based dishes tend to be acidic which work well with chianti’s fruity flavors and acidic notes. For the contrast example, rieslings (specifically those labeled ‘kabinett’ or ‘spatlese’) with their bright flavors and balanced acidity/sugar are a wonderful foil to spicy Asian dishes. Tip: if you’re making a dish that uses a wine in the sauce or marinade, that same wine will be ideal for drinking with that course.
Rule of Three (using your WIT)
Another approach takes into consideration three characteristics of both the food and the wine. First up: the weight. Heavier wines (which often have more tannins), such as cabernet sauvignon, cry out for hearty food fare. For example, try cabernet sauvignon with seitan-heavy dishes. Intensity refers to the depth of the flavor. You’ve probably seen decorating shows that say ‘the color is right, but the hue is wrong’. The same goes for flavor. It’s best to serve a wine that holds its own, but doesn’t get lost on your palate when eating, or overpower the dish. Texture, our “T” refers to the feel of the wine in your mouth. All wines have different textures. Some are softer, some are rougher or more rustic, with many degrees of variation along the way. The best example of this is pinot noir, which is known for its silky texture. If you haven’t seen Sideways with Virginia Madsen’s glorious tribute to pinot, you really should.
Location, Location, Location!
Yet another tool for pairing a food with a wine, is the regional approach. This common sense angle takes into consideration the nature of the meal and the spices in it. Are you cooking a paella, which is a traditional Spanish dish? A great choice would be a Spanish wine, such as a tempranillo. For a cassoulet, a lovely, rustic French wine, a Cote de Rhone or something from Provence would be a wonderful pairing.
Adding It All Up
Now that you’re familiar with some general ideas, let’s get a little more specific. Fatty foods (even our healthy vegan fats, such as olive oil and avocados) get along well with wines with softer tannins. Steer away from the cabernet sauvignons here, and opt for merlots, red blends and syrahs. Or choose higher acidity whites, like a sauvignon blanc. Earthy foods like earthy wines. One of our favorite varietals with mushroom- based dishes is cabernet franc. Spicy Asian dishes do best with cooling white wines. For Mexican meals, try zinfandels or shirazes, both of which should be big enough to stand up to the flavors. Merlot and sangiovese are classic accents for Italian dinners. For Italian dishes without tomatoes, try pinot grigio. For desserts, be sure your wine is sweeter than the dessert or the wine will taste sour.
This article only scratches the surface. When you start thinking about what you’re tasting and discussing it with others, you’ll be amazed at what you learn. In the meantime, there are no rules in wine-pairing. Except these!
- Have fun! It’s all about exploring your palate.
- If possible, taste more than one wine with a dish. You’ll see what works much quicker.
- If a wine isn’t working with a meal, simply set it aside and enjoy it after.
- If you don’t like a wine, you’re right. We’re all different.
- You’ll hear that red wine needs meat. Revel in the fact that you know better.
- Go back to that have fun concept!
Wine choices aren’t always perfect. When they aren’t, it’s not the end of the world. But when they work, you’ll get that ‘match made in heaven’ feeling. When that pairing succeeds, both the food and the wine will amplify the best aspects of each other. As cheesy it sounds, it’s kind of like your favorite musicians playing your favorite songs in harmony. Next month, we’ll have an entrée recipe paired with a wine so you can see it in practice. In the meantime, here are a couple of lighter wines for summer drinking.
2010 Sauvignon Blanc from The Vegan Vine: This company is a subsidiary of well-known Clos La Chance. It just so happens that the vice president’s daughter is vegan, encouraging the winery to create cruelty-free wines. This compassionate wine is sustainably farmed, tastes fantastic and is possibly one of the best American white wines I’ve had at this price. It’s made for hot summer nights, with lower acids than many sauvignon blancs, such as those from Chile, South Africa or New Zealand. With loads of flavor (green apple, nectarine, peach, agave and a hint of spice), this wine has more of medium red body. Enjoy this one with crackers and vegan cheese, or a tempeh salad sandwich. ($9.99)
2008 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Kabinett from Studert-Prum: Rieslings are one of the most under- appreciated varietals. Thanks to that, there are often terrific bargains. This one is an ideal example of how fruit and mineral undertones blend. It’s straight ahead with higher acids and a slight effervescence. This one can handle richer dishes. Try it with a coconut curry. ($15.99) Please note that the Vegan Vine Company contacted me to see if I’d be interested in trying their wines. While I gave them an enthusiastic yes, it was with the understanding that I may not review them and certainly wouldn’t give a biased review. I’m very happy to give this wine two thumbs up and I’m looking forward to purchasing more great wines from this company in the years to come.