Andre Simon once wrote, “Wine makes every meal an occasion, every table more elegant, every day more civilized.” This is still true for us today. More and more of us are being converted to wine drinkers, or wine sippers for the not-so-hardcore winos out there. Our generation, the millennial generation, is currently one of the biggest purchasers of wine compared to other age groups. So we like wine, whether we are first time drinkers or have had our fair share of practice (freshman year colony parties wwhhaatt?), but what’s next? I mean wine has made my table elegant; it has caused every day to become civilized…now it’s time to let wine make your meal into an occasion.
Everyone’s tastes are different so these are just general rules of thumb to plan your meal by. Just like when you do a wine tasting, you go lighter to darker. Obviously you could say the same thing for food; you wouldn’t want to eat your main course, then salad, then dessert, and then appetizer. The food or the wine should be complex, not both. You want one to show off the other, not to have them compete for dominance in your mouth.
Generally Champagne, or sparkling wine, goes well with the appetizers while white wines would go well with salads or lighter dishes. A good thing to note here is that when you are pairing wine with a dish, it is actually more important to make sure the wine pairs well with the sauce than with the meat. Fish with a spicy, red tomato sauce would overwhelm most whites even though technically white wine is supposed to pair well with food. However, most red wines would go well with heavier meat sauces and meat dishes like steak. Port or sherry are good desert wines to end off a meal, perhaps even with a piece of chocolate cake.
There are many ways to pair food with wine though. Sometimes it is a good idea to add some contrast to a meal. For example, you could try to balance out the spiciness in a meat stew with a slightly sweeter wine instead of some heavy red. What the decision comes down to really is which wine will bring out the best in this dish or which dish would bring the best out of this wine. If you’re not trying to get too technical, Pinot Noir (red Burgundies) and Sauvignon Blanc (along with Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé, and white Bordeaux) are said to be among the most versatile varietals. They go with a wider range of foods than most other varietals.
If all else fails, go with the simple motto of like with like. An example of such would be to pair the wines of a region with the foods of the region. If you think about it, it actually makes a lot of sense. The grapes for the wine are grown on a certain type of land in a region. Then all around that region is the same, or somewhat similar, land that all kinds of other crops and livestock are being raised on. Everything there is being raised in the same environment with most of the same factors.
Here are a few pairing suggestions I picked up over time. White wine tastes sweeter with artichokes and asparagus so you’d want a bone-dry, herbal Sauvignon Blanc. A heavily tannic red wine will soften by combining it with dishes that contain certain ingredients, like cracked black pepper or fat. Pepper also can flesh out young, fruity reds. Salty foods go well with sweeter wines because the sweeter wines tend to counteract the salt to come to a balance in your mouth. Champagne can also pair well with fried and salty food, salty nuts, egg dishes, soups, salads, sushi, or sashimi. If you have a spicy food, try contrasting it with a light weight, low-alcohol, semisweet wine like a German Gewürztraminer or an Alsatian wine. Think of it this way; alcohol fans the flames, sugar douses them. High acid foods like citrus or tomatoes need too be paired with high acid wines. If you have a low acid wine it might appear flaccid and flabby. Again, like with like, you might want to think about pairing dishes with a subtler flavor with an older, subtler wine or simply a wine that has lost its youthful exuberance, like a mature Riesling or Bordeaux.
To reiterate my point, these are merely guidelines that can get you started with experience but do not hold these as the ten commandments for pairing wine and food. I want to leave you with a quote I heard just today from John Martini, the owner of Finger Lakes winery Anthony Road Vineyards, “I always say, wine makes men more handsome, women more beautiful, and everyone a whole lot smarter!” So…go drink some wine.