Sunday, November 08, 2009

Wine and Food Pairing. You are probably here by mistake.

I need to rant a bit, so bear with me. But first, let me just let everyone know that if you came here to find out what wine goes with what food, you are probably at the wrong place.

A fantastic dish, complimented by a wine that seems to fit it like a glove is rare, but when you find it, is an experience you will not soon forget. Where things get crazy is when people start coming up with simple rules of what wines go with which food.

As modern humans, We like easy rules to follow with which to make our daily decisions easier. The light is RED, so I STOP; GREEN, so I GO. Everybody else is jumping of a cliff: I will too; nobody else jumping, I'll just stay right here. Why wouldn't there be equally easy to follow guidelines for food/wine pairings? I have heard some of them.

We've all heard them. White wine with white food, red wine with red food. White with fish, red with beef. Bubbles, then white, then red, then port to go with appetizers, first course, second course, and then desert. These work for many situations but fail miserably in others. Like a broken watch, right twice a day, these rules work when they work, but don't set you clock by them.

The trouble is that pairing wine and food isn't as simple as color or course. There is as more variation in red wine sometimes than there is between red and white wine, so basing a pairing on color can be doomed to failure.

Recently, I read a blog from a winery that was lamenting that the their wine, a sumptuous Cabernet Sauvignon, probably doesn't go well with a dish of fresh tomatoes, mozzarella and basil. How did they knew it didn't go well together? Because conventional wisdom says that that dish goes with lighter, white wines. If you want to drink a luscious red, and have tomatoes, you better toss them in a pot and cook them down.

To that, I say, hogwash. In fact, I have had this wine, and that dish. They both, not only were great individually, they were great together.

Do you want a great, simple way to find what wines go well with what foods? Try this: Every time you eat or drink, pay attention to the foods and wines you have. I know, paying attention to what you eat is so cumbersome. But, when you taste a combination that works, take it a step farther: ask yourself why it works. What about that food and that wine makes the pair work. Make mental notes of these combinations, write them down when you get home. Then, use these as a guide.

Another system that works, but only as a guide, is similar to taking shots of tequila. Here is how it works. Get a shaker of salt and a slice of lemon or lime. Pour a glass of wine that you are looking to pair a meal with. Take a sip, savour it. Then, taste a pinch of salt. Did that add or detract from the wine? The do it again, but with the lime. How did that work? You can use this as an insight on how it might pair with something salty, like ham, or herbed dish. Or something tart, like a dish with a citrus glaze or component.

Again, these are just guidelines. The only way to know for sure is to have the dish and the wine. You can increase your odd for success when you are out with a group. Instead of ordering a bottle of one wine, everyone can order a glass of a different wine and then share. See what goes with what. You may have to try more wines, but that can't be all bad.

Don't be afraid of asking your waiter, or the chef. They do this for a living. But if they spout of the simplistic rules, consider doing it yourself, or order a beer..