Matching wine with food is not rocket science. Those who treat it as such take all the fun out of drinking vino.
That’s not to say that certain food-and-wine combinations aren’t better than others. It’s just that the pursuit of a so-called “perfect” pairing can be frustrating because of the subjectivity involved—no two palates are exactly the same.
A better approach is to use tried-and-true pairings—white wine with fish or chicken, red wine with red meats—as a starting point, and then do plenty of experimenting.
Different people take different approaches to the pairing process. The most popular method is to seek out common flavors. An example would be matching the buttery nuance of many California Chardonnays with a dish that calls for a cream sauce…or pairing the fruity quality of an off-dry Riesling with a plate of sliced apples, pears and peaches.
Another school of thought embraces matching weight with weight. This is the approach we recommend, because hearty dishes can (and usually do) overpower lighter wines.
Take lasagna, for instance. Think about the layers of pasta, cheese and sauce that define this popular dish. Then think about the wine that should accompany it. Instinct tells us that we’d want a wine that also is multi-layered—a wine with lots of aroma and flavor nuances. Or, to put it another way, we’d want a hearty wine to match the hearty food.
The real fun begins when you start with lighter cuisine, because the wine pairing possibilities are almost endless. Lighter-bodied wines match well with lighter fare, but so do most full-bodied wines. Contrary to what some pundits say, only the blandest of dishes can be overpowered by even the “biggest” of wines.
One important hint: When matching wine with food, be aware of the food’s dominant feature, whether it’s a particular flavor or its texture. A top sirloin steak calls for one spectrum of wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, etc.), whereas a pepper-encrusted steak requires another spectrum (Zinfandel, Petite Sirah, Rhone reds, etc.).
But the best advice of all is worth repeating: Keep an open mind, and be willing to experiment.
The “perfect food-and-wine pairing” may be elusive, but if you’re willing to try different things, the pursuit can bring you endless hours of enjoyment.