Food and Wine – A Heavenly Pair

Basic guidelines help us navigate in a world of many choices. If you’re not a Fashionista, rules like “match your shoes with your belt” and “no white pants after Labor Day” are helpful. General tips also help us do things like hang pictures, boil eggs and paint walls. When picking a wine for your meal, the rule of thumb has been “red wine for red meat” and “white wine for chicken or fish”. That is certainly a fine way to get your bearings in a sea of options, but it does not address situations that can be less than straightforward. How do you deal with ethnic rice and bean dishes? What about flavorful sauces?

When it comes to picking wine, personal taste is important. Everyone has a different tolerance for sweetness, for example. Many cigar smokers start their love affair with the cigar by smoking sweet, flavored varieties. Beer drinkers begin with lighter brews. Similarly, wine lovers who are used to consuming sweeter foods may start by experimenting with sweeter wines like White Zinfandel or Ports before moving on to heavy red wines or dry whites. The idea is to try what is available and determine your preference. Many restaurants list wines by the glass. Wine stores and vineyards often offer wine tastings. Attending a wine tasting event is an excellent way to meet people and sample different wines. Do not hesitate to express interest, ask questions and take note of what you like/dislike about a particular wine.

Once you are exposed to a few wines, try pairing your favorites with different foods. Wine is meant to complement your meal. It will taste differently by itself, and can be used to bring out the flavor in a favorite dish. Make sure the wine you choose does not overpower the meal, and vice versa. If the dish is light and delicately prepared, a heavy red wine is not advisable. However, a hearty meal (red meats, grilled or smoked foods, heavy sauces) will require a more substantial wine. Pairing wine with food can be a tricky proposition. The body or texture of a wine can be light, moderate or heavy. A full Cabernet Sauvignon can be easily paired with red meats and chocolate. A light-bodied red wine – like a Chianti or a Pinot Noir – will do well with tuna or chicken. Moderate red wines (like Merlots) are versatile and can go with a variety of pasta dishes or grilled meats (lasagna, BBQ chicken, duck, etc.). Also, one thing to note about a wine’s texture is that while wines will generally have a certain body, some can be produced in different styles. A Pinot Noir, for example, can be offered in a medium range. Shop owners and knowledgeable servers will be able to answer questions regarding texture, and may offer a taste if you are not sure about a particular wine.

Some white wines may be dry and others may be sweet. A dry wine like a Chardonnay or a Chenin Blanc could go well with cheeses, shellfish and poultry. A sweet Riesling is a good choice with fruits or desserts. When it comes to picking wines and pairing them with with favorite foods, experimentation is key. Some pairings may be unpleasant. For example, a very dry white wine when paired with a highly acidic dish could produce a negative result. Opposite pairings may seem odd, but sometimes work well (spicy foods and dessert wines, for example). It is important to try a variety of combinations and decide what works well for you.

Last, but certainly not least, a tip for the modern age. Do not dismiss the funky label. Today, we have a wide variety of choices when it comes to bottled wine. California has entered the market with flair producing bottles that are high-quality, affordable and attractive. Let’s say you are on your way to a casual gathering of friends. The food offerings will be plentiful and diverse. You have selected several comparable bottles in your price range, but are having trouble narrowing them down. Why not be playful? Pick the one with the creative name, the interesting back story, or the funky label. Wine is a celebration. Enjoy!