Match Making

It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since we talked about matching wine with food, but I’ve gotten numerous questions on the subject in the past month so it must be time to talk about it again. There are potentially so many variables to consider when pairing food and wine that it’s very easy to over-complicate the topic. And while I also don’t want to over-simplify the subject, we’re going to take a very simple approach.


First know that there are no absolutes. What makes a good food and wine pairing is dictated entirely by what tastes good to you. There are traditional approaches to pairing food and wine that we will discuss, but don’t be intimidated by them or other people’s opinions about what wine works with what food. Some people feel red wine pairs well with chocolate. Some don’t. I like dark stout (beer) and dark chocolate, but I can’t say how many would agree with that combination. So remember, a good pairing is one that you like.

Ok, so is it as simple as white wine goes with white meat and red wine goes with red meat? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. In fact, color has nothing whatsoever to do with pairing food and wine! I can almost guarantee that you wouldn’t like chicken cacciatore with white wine. Chicken is white meat, so why doesn’t this work? Because flavor is the most important element in pairing food and wine and usually it’s the style of preparation, rather than the meat itself, that dictates the flavor. For our chicken, it’s the hearty, savory cacciatore sauce that dictates the flavor of the dish, and therefore the wine we would choose.

The primary consideration when pairing food with wine is their respective flavor and its intensity. In almost all situations, strong flavors must be paired with strong flavors and mild flavors must be paired with mild flavors. That is, intensely flavored wines should be paired with intensely flavored foods, and delicately flavored wines should be paired with delicately flavored foods. This is pretty much common sense. Foods with delicate flavors like veal or filet of sole will be overwhelmed by a full-bodied red wine, just as a strong marinara sauce will virtually cancel out a delicate Pinot Grigio. When drinking wine with food, you want to be able to taste both the wine and the food, not one or the other.

Keeping flavor intensity in mind, now all you need to consider is whether the food and wine’s flavors have complementary characteristics. For example, Pinot Noir and mushrooms have complementary earthiness, Sauvignon Blanc and vinegar-based salad dressings have complementary acidity (think citrus), and desert wines and rich, fruit-based deserts have complementary fruity sweetness. For our chicken cacciatore we might select a reasonably tannic red wine, because tannins are complementary to the fat content of the savory sauce.

So it’s not the color of the wine or the color of the meat, it’s the flavor characteristics of the wine and the preparation of the food. It’s taste, not color that matters. So our simple rule for pairing food and wine is: pair complementary flavors while being sure to match the flavor intensity of the wine with that of the food. There are clearly many exceptions to this simple rule, but it will work most of the time. Remember, what really matters is what you like. So, keep an open mind and palate, experiment on your own, and take advantage of the frequent wine dinners offered by the restaurants and clubs in our area. You’ll find more information on food and wine at www.lifeisacabernet.net/Enjoy.html (case sensitive).

Cellar Notes

I was fortunate enough to participate in a really wonderful wine dinner at Amedeo’s last month. Chef Randal Gresham of Amedeo’s and Robert Gilroy of Majestic Wines put their taste-buds together and came up with a really creative menu featuring several outstanding food and wine pairings. Here are a couple of the wines from that evening that you might like. The Stonestreet Chardonnay was paired with seared diver scallops in a rutabaga puree and bacon. The Byron Pinot Noir was paired with a duck prosciutto and a plum mostarda. I’ve also included the Liar’s Dice Zinfandel that I sampled at another tasting sponsored by Majestic Wines. We tried it with spicy pork ribs and that was a great match. All of these wines are available from Spec’s. If they’re out of stock, they will gladly order them for you. It only takes a couple of days.

Chardonnay
Stonestreet Vineyards
Alexander Valley
Spec’s $25-$30

Pinot Noir
Byron Vineyards
Santa Barbara California
Spec’s $20-$25

Liar’s Dice Zinfandel
Murphy-Goode
California
Spec’s $15-$20