Food Needs Wine

The other day I was talking to a coworker about Port, and what to eat with it. The classic pairing for a Tawny or Vintage port is blue cheese, like Stilton or Roquefort. Personally, I could live without blue cheeses. It’s not that I dislike it necessarily, but it’s more that I don’t care for it. It doesn’t do it for me. So then why would I pair something I really love (like vintage port!) with something I don’t care for?

Sometimes, when pairing food and wine, it’s okay to break the rules. There aren’t any Wine Police out there to slap you on the wrist for having a Cabernet with fish. Master Sommeliers don’t lurk around your dining room waiting to pounce when you drink a Chardonnay with steak! (Although sometimes I think we all wish we had our own personal Sommelier hiding out in the kitchen!) Those simple rules: Red wine with meat, White wine with fish – are outdated and misleading. Take Salmon and Pinot Noir for example – That’s right, red wine with fish! But Meara, that’s against the rules! Salmon is a hearty, meaty and fatty fish. It can stand up to a richer wine like a Pinot Noir.

  • There are some “guidelines” to keep in mind that will help when pairing, but there are always exceptions!
  • The acidity of wine is a great contrast to rich and fatty foods, as well as sweet desserts.
  • Tannic wines can taste bitter, and that makes an excellent compliment to rich meat dishes, and even sweet desserts.
  • Treat high alcohol wines like acidic wines and pair them with fatty and sweet foods.

Some “Rules” –

The Rule: Match the body of the wine to the body of the food. Rich, hearty dishes are best paired with full-bodied wines. Such as, a full-bodied Cabernet with a grilled steak or hearty stew. And on the flip side, paid lighter fare with light-bodied wines. Like a crisp Sauvignon Blanc with a summer salad or mild seafood.

The Exception: Super rich and creamy dishes, like clam chowder or Fettuccini Alfredo, can benefit from a light, crisp white. The acidity of a Sauvignon Blanc or un-oaked Chardonnay can help lift all that heavy, creamy, fat off your tongue and cleanse your palate.
The Rule: Matching flavors! Bright fruity flavors in a wine can pair great with fruit-based dishes. And herbal and lime notes in a Sauvignon Blanc can go great with a fresh salad with a citrus-lime dressing.

The Exception: Look for contrast! Spicy or savory, with sweet. One of my favorite pairings is a slightly sweet Gewurztraminer with spicy Indian food. The hint of sweet helps balance out that intense spice.

The Rule: Focus on the preparation, not the protein. Smokey fish tacos can pair with the toasted oak and sweet fruit flavors of a Chardonnay. But if that fish were baked or broiled with lemon, a light and crisp Sauvignon Blanc would be a much better pairing.

So after all of that, what is my favorite pairing for a Vintage Port? Probably chocolate covered biscotti, or ginger cookies! And a good book.

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