Private wine consultant, Foster Smith shares his strategy for what goes with what—or why not. “I wonder if we have become somewhat fixed on the idea of marrying types of grapes with certain types of food, such as seafood and Sauvignon Blanc, or steak with Cabernet Sauvignon?” he questions. “While these are most often proper pairings, I find it more interesting to consider all components of the dish. I believe this invites many nuanced pairing opportunities.”
Without knowing the possible additions to the core entrée these classic pairings may go awry. With all the components in mind, sometimes the entrée itself is not the starting point for determining the wine pairing. “The classic pairing of grilled white fish with a Sauvignon Blanc is an excellent choice. However, if much lemon juice is added to the fish, the wine can go flabby due to the overriding citric acid. Here an off dry (slightly sweet) wine with good acidity like Riesling or Chenin Blanc might be more pleasing,” he offers.
Smith also focuses on a complimentary contrast between the wine and the food's flavors. Sauvignon Blanc is also frequently paired with Asian cuisine, which is a good match as long as the chilies and curry are taken into account. “Asian curry and red pepper chili dishes are delightful with off dry wines. I especially enjoy German Kabinett and Spatlese level Rieslings. The hot and sweet flavors accentuate and contrast each other much like a hot-sweet dipping sauce,” he explains.
Also determine the dominant spice or flavor of each dish before pairing it with a wine. “If your steak is au poivre (black pepper encrusted), a young tannic Cabernet Sauvignon may tend toward bitterness, whereas it would not if the steak was without the stronger seasoning,” he says. “With a lot of black pepper I would try a California Zinfandel with a rich fruit flavor to contrast with the spice.” And he encourages experimentation “Remember if you like it, then it's good.”
1. All the classic rules still apply, white with white, red with red.
2. Lighter bodied wines pair best with lighter foods.
3. Full bodied wines pair better with richer foods.
4. Semi dry and high acid wines pair well with spicy foods and many fried foods.
1. Acid, sweetness, spice, fats, and oils in food will react with the wine.
2. Acidity in food will diminish perceived acidity in the wine.
3. Oils in food will diminish perceived acidity.
4. Sweetness in food will enhance the perceived dryness of the wine.
5. “Heat likes sweet.” Off dry wines help counterbalance hot spices.
6. Tannic wines pair well with oils and animal fats other than fish oil.
7. Dried pepper can intensify perceived tannin in red wines.