An artfully crafted dish made with impeccable ingredients can be revelatory on its own, but when paired with the right wine, an entirely new sensory experience can emerge. So what’s the key to this successful marriage?
I like to think of wine as a condiment for food, a flavor element that will add a bit of nuance or an accent point to a dish. The right wine can contribute a needed kick of acidity, the way a squeeze of lemon would on fried calamari, a dash of sweetness, the way mango chutney would on tandoori chicken, or a touch of exotic spice, the way a cumin and coriander rub would on BBQ ribs.
Keeping that in mind, here are three tried and true techniques that will turn you into a food and wine pairing pro:
Pair Weight with Weight
Whoever told you that meat must be matched with red wine and fish must be matched with white, is sorely mistaken. Some of the best pairings I’ve had match red wine with fish and white wine with meat. The key point to consider is what type of fish you’re dealing with, and what type of meat. Salmon, for instance, will not beckon the same wine pairing as branzino, and same goes for pork tenderloin versus a ribeye steak. Forget about the color of the wine and focus on its weight or body in relation to the food. Although Viognier is a white wine, it’s typically quite full-bodied and ample on the palate, which would make it pair wonderfully with lighter meats like roasted pork chops or rotisserie chicken. Similarly, although Pinot Noir is a red wine, it’s typically quite light and sprightly in style, and would make a fantastic pairing for meatier fish like seared bluefin tuna or pan-roasted salmon.
What Grows Together Goes Together
When all else fails, trust nature. Pair wines with foods that come from the same place of origin: Mendoza Malbec with Argentine skirt steak; Santorini Assyrtiko with Greek style grilled whole sea bass; Epoisses cheese with red Burgundy (Pinot Noir).
Another very successful pairing technique involves matching opposite flavors such as sweet with spicy. Slightly sweet wines such as off-dry German Rieslings, Alsatian Gewürztraminers, and certain Argentine Torrontes work wonders on spicy Asian cuisines like Thai, Vietnamese, Indian, and Korean. The residual sugar in these types of wines serves to temper the heat from chiles and piquant spices that are commonly used in Asian dishes. Another benefit to off-dry wines is that they are quite low in alcohol. High alcohol can amplify the sensation of spiciness on the palate, so choosing low alcohol wines can help to keep the heat in check.
The combination of tart wines with salty foods is another example where opposite flavors can complement each other perfectly. Tart or citrusy wines that are high in acid such as Sauvignon Blancs, Vinho Verdes, Txakolis, or Albariños tend to marry beautifully with foods that have a high salt content such as French fries or fritters, briny oysters, or cured meats like prosciutto and salami. The nervy acidity in these wines washes away the salt and cleanses the palate.