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There should be no rules for pairing food and wine, but experience suggests guidelines that could be helpful:
- Drink what you like and eat what you like, but investigate what you haven’t tried.
- As Matt Kramer says, “Wine exists for food. This context of food is essential [and] we find regardless of the grape variety or culture: a liking for restraint over excess; a preference for higher acidity; an increasing desire for greater variety.” Making Sense of Wine (2003)
- There are only a few pairings of food and wine that don’t work or are cautionary:
- Fish and wine at times can clash metallically—reds wooded and some whites, especially. Excess salt can magnify tannins, so reds lose out not only on seafood like oysters, but on ham, bacon, salted fish and the like.
- Cheese is often hard to pair with wine, especially blues and softer, although many enjoy low tannin reds like Pinot with creamy cheeses; hard cheese is a good pairing for white wines. (I’ve never understood “wine and cheese tastings”. No wonder it’s hard for new wine drinkers to understand what the fuss is about!)
- Vinegar-based dressings are anathema to wines in general, unless very dilute or acidic substitutes for vinegar like lemon or verjus (grape juice from unripe grapes) are used.
- Asparagus, brussels sprouts, cooked bitter greens and the like are hard to accompany, except with an austere, higher acid white looking to similarities or with a little sugar hoping to contrast and cover the bitterness.
- High alcohol wines are more difficult to pair in general, looking usually for matching extremes of spice and robustness.
- Chocolate doesn’t really go well with wine, even red wine as often paired. We actually have found our INOX shockingly does a passing job with chocolate. Coffee or port or digestifs are best bets.
- Wine and food matches that work well to my mind include:
- High-acid whites with high-acid foods like asparagus or tomatoes, or briny foods such as oysters. This approach matches similar characteristics.
- Fatty and oily dishes like red meats or fried dishes are best complemented by tannic wines that can bind proteins and fats or by acidic wines that can cut the fat—that’s why some whites could even tackle a steak. This approach uses contrasting attributes.
- White wines go well with meats up to red meats, even though some rich and high acid whites can pair well with red meat. Likewise, lighter tannin and high acid reds do a good job with richer light meats and fish.
- Experiment. (Rosengarten and Wesson’s book Red Wine with Fish is still a good reference.)
- Desserts need wine matches that are at least slightly sweeter than the dessert.
- Quality sparkling wine goes with anything, especially problematic matches or beginning and end of meals (e.g. Champagne or Argyle Oregon sparkling).
- Wines and foods traditionally made in the same area will frequently go well together—fits with the eat and drink locally encouragement.
- Honor my favorite dinner party toast, “Here’s to great food, great wine, and most importantly great people!”
- In general, white wines don’t need to be served as cold as normally served, red wines could be cooler than normally served (an energy-saver “room temperature” of 65deg rather than normal 72deg). High quality white wines are more revealing and richer in nature at higher temperatures, pairing with complex dishes better. Higher acid, austere wines can take chilling and are often better colder when we look for brightness, freshness and contrasting refreshment for more extreme dishes.
- Light white wines are served better first compared to heavier reds; but, the reverse is also true, lighter reds can go before heavier, more complex whites.
- Wines with a bit of residual sugar or inherent spiciness often slake the heat of ethnic dishes with spice, especially if well chilled. Complex and higher alcohol wines do poorly with spicy foods. Maybe beer or milk in the extreme?