Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Demystifying Food & Wine Pairing

Hi, I'm Stefano Watson, owner of Avio Vineyards.  In my first Blog post, I'd like to talk about Food & Wine pairing.  I hope that you will add your comments, and perhaps share a favorite recipe and the type of wine you like to enjoy with it.

Since the beginning of wine making, there has been a natural affinity to pair wine with food.  That may be obvious to those reading this posting, but it is not so apparent to the average American wine-drinking household.  It is here we can take a valued lesson from Europeans as they have seemed to figure it out.  In traveling across Italy and having enjoyed many a meal in the homes of friends and acquaintances, there is always wine on the table during the meal.  On my return home, my thoughts always go back to why it is that we are not more in the European mindset when it comes to enjoying a bottle of wine with dinner.  One of my beliefs is that many Americans have mistakenly come to believe that pairing wine with food is an overly complicated process and that if not done properly, you will ruin that perfect bottle of wine that you have been harboring for a special occasion, or that a sommelier will unexpectantly jump out of your pantry and sharply belittle you for your inane stupidity while revoking your wine tasting privileges for the rest of your natural life! 

Recently I was in a grocery store where the store brand bottles of wine displayed a very clever yet helpful marketing ploy.  In order to simplify the food/wine pairing for the average consumer, the bottles had pictures of the suggested food pairing item printed on the label!  Problem solved!  The Chardonnay had a picture of a plump chicken on the label, the bottle of merlot proudly displayed a portly pig, and of course the cabernet sauvignon had a picturesque cow smiling for the viewing public.  So there you have it; “wine pairing 101” without having to pay tuition or attend any classes. 

Forget what you know about the antiquated “rules” of wine & food pairings (besides, rules are made to be broken).   Therefore, let’s explore some guidelines that will help you impress your friends and neighbors the next time they come over to dinner: 

·       Match the weight and texture of the food to the wine.  A light-bodied fish like sole works well with a light-bodied wine like Pinot Grigio.  Conversely, a full-bodied fish like salmon (think of the fat content) matches beautifully with a buttery chardonnay.

·       Balance the intensity of the flavors.  A mild flavored food like roast turkey pairs well with a Sauvignon Blanc or Beaujolais, but turkey used for thanksgiving dinner slathered with stuffing and spices needs a bit more flavor, like what you get with a Syrah or Zinfandel. 

·       Balance tastes.  There are 5 basics tastes: sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umami (think “savory” as in mushrooms or soy).  Herein lies the magical secret that will give you the skills of the most talented sommelier.  Salty and sour tastes in food will make a dry wine taste milder (fruitier and less acidic).  Since studies show that most Americans enjoy a full-bodied red, the next time you open one, think of the sauce that you are serving with the protein and add a little salt to it to enhance not only the food, but also the wine.  Sweet and savory (umami) will make a wine taste stronger (drier and more astringent).  That’s why you have people have been perplexed when they’ve paired Cabernet with chocolate (sweet), and the result was that the sweetness of the chocolate made the wine drier and more astringent.  Next time try a port with your chocolate and your taste buds will thank you!

In Italy, wine is just another component or ingredient of the meal, and when you think of wine that way, it becomes easier to select your pairings.  Remember that the rules you were taught all those years ago are now simply rubbish, and you should enjoy breaking those rules by experimenting in the safety and privacy of your own home! 

Food and wine have a natural affinity towards each other.  Pairing is not a win or lose proposition; as long as you have wine on the table, you can’t go wrong.  Keep in mind that if you aren’t overwhelmed with your pairing of that new wine, you can always enjoy it later by itself!