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Complimentary Contrast

I believe this invites interesting pairing opportunities. While this is no new idea it is a bit different from the classic approach. There are often parts of a dish that can have a profound effect on the pairing. For example a classic pairing is grilled white flesh fish and Sauvignon Blanc, a dry, high acid, wine an excellent match, however if lemon juice is added to the fish the wine can go flabby due to the overriding citric acid. Here an off dry wine with good acidity like Riesling or Chenin Blanc might be more pleasing.

Without knowing the possible additions to the core entrée the classic pairing may go awry. With all the components in mind sometimes the core entrée is not the starting point for considering the pairing. I like to focus on a complimentary contrast between the wine and flavors of the food. Sauvignon Blanc again as an example, is frequently paired with Asian cuisine, a good match as long as chilies and curry are not forgotten. Asian curry and red pepper chili dishes are often 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 Thai hot/sweet dipping sauce. If your steak is Au Poivre or crushed black pepper a young tannic Cabernet Sauvignon may tend toward bitterness, whereas it would not if the steak was without the stronger seasoning.  There are a few key points of food and wine pairing to apply when making your choice

Remember the classic rules still apply:

White with white, Red with red.

Lighter bodied wines pair best with lighter foods.

Full bodied wines pair better with richer foods.

Semi dry and high acid wines pair well with spicier foods.

Acid, sweetness, spice, and oils in food will react with wine.

Acidity in food will diminish perceived acidity in the wine.

Oils in food will diminish perceived acidity.

Sweetness in food will enhance the perceived dryness of the wine.

“Heat likes sweet” off dry wines help counterbalance hot spices.

Tannic wines pair well with oils and animal fat.

Select light-bodied wines to pair with lighter food, and fuller-bodied wines to go with heartier, more flavorful dishes. Using a salmon example, Pinot Noir works beautifully with the fish because you are matching light to light. Otherwise a full-bodied, heavier wine will overpower a light, delicate dish, and similarly, a lighter style wine will not even register on your personal flavor meter if you sip it with a hearty roast.

Consider how the food is prepared. Is it grilled, roasted, or fried, for instance, and what type of sauce or spice is used? For example, chicken with a lemon butter sauce will call for a different more delicate wine to play off the sauce than chicken cacciatore with all of the tomato and Italian spices, or a grilled chicken breast.


For every food action, there is a wine reaction. When you drink wine by itself it tastes one way, but when you take a bite of food, the wine tastes different. This is because wine is like a spice. Elements in the wine interact with the food to provide a different taste sensation like these basic reactions:


Sweet Foods like Italian tomato sauce, Japanese teriyaki, and honey-mustard glazes make your wine seem drier than it really is so try an off-dry (slightly sweet) wine to balance the flavor: Chenin Blanc, White Zinfandel, or Riesling.


High Acid Foods like salads with balsamic vinaigrette dressing, soy sauce, or fish served with a squeeze of lemon go well with wines higher in acid: Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Pinot Noir. White Zinfandel, although not as high in acid, can provide a nice contrast to high acid foods.


Bitter and Astringent Foods like a mixed green salad of bitter greens, Greek olives and charbroiled meats accentuate a wine's bitterness so complement it with a full-flavored forward fruity wine: Chardonnay, Aussie Shiraz , Merlot. Big tannic red wines, like many Zinfandels, Cabernet Sauvignon or Old World Syrah will go best with your classic grilled steak or lamb chops, as the fat in the meat will tone down the tannin (bitterness) in the wine.




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