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He “Hates Wine and Food Pairing”?

by David on July 11, 2007

Well, it’s a fun read, as always with St. Vini, but I don’t entirely agree with this post or think he’s helping anyone this time. I’m OK with his big picture: “Don’t get hung up on these silly notions of wines and food being required to go perfectly together. Open a bottle of something tasty and drink up!” Agreed. Wine is hard enough already and the last thing we want to do is imply that there’s a wrong way to do things. It just puts people off. And optimum pairing is just as personal as food preferences… but it should be fun and easy. For example, Colleen’s Kitchen offers many recipes and wine pairings that are easy to make and tough to beat.

But, let’s not throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water. There’s quite a distance between just paying attention and getting “hung up” on the wine and food combination. It’s not hard to create a good, or even wonderful, pairing so why not go for it? How could someone like St. Vini, with all he knows and loves about wine, really believe all of what he’s saying in his heart? Gosh, do you think he might be the first-ever blogger to go a little overboard to make a point?? 😉

Partial rebuttal:

1. No one should be looking around to see if someone else disapproves of his pairing choice. That’s just pathetic.
2. If people are so concerned about getting the food and wine pairing “correct” that they’re paralyzed into ordering beer (lager or stout?), then we’ve got a problem, but really. Are there grown-ups that insecure? Get thee to a therapist! Or just order the house white!
3. Some combinations are yucky (of course, yucky is in the eye – or palate – of the beholder). Cheese can be kinda tricky.
4. As many responded, if you’re going to put some effort into the meal preparation like getting fresh herbs from the Farmer’s Market or making your sauce from scratch, why is it so hard to put a little thought into your choice of wine? It’s part of the meal, after all.

I wonder what St. Vini would think about the Tim Hanni theory: “if the wine you really want to drink with your cottage cheese, sweet-and-sour shrimp, asparagus, Thai food, pasta, or anything else tastes bitter, less fruity and generally too strong with your meal, put a touch of salt and little squeeze of lemon on the food. The food will taste better to you and the wine will become smoother and more pleasant.” I’ve tried it and, much to my surprise, it seems to work, but it also seems geared towards solving problems rather than increasing pleasure. I don’t know everything there is to know about his approach, but it doesn’t seem to encompass the quest for those magical food and wine combinations we come across from time to time. I’m all for solving problems but, given a choice, I’ll always shoot for pleasure. 😉

Sushi and Sauvignon Blanc

So much of it is common sense. Most wines and foods taste pretty good together, and the best combinations are personal. And, a so-so combination is usually preferable to no wine at all – uh, oh – am I in trouble here?? 😉

Some easy-to-remember alternative pairing theories:

1. Match weight for weight: a hillside Cab will probably out-shout a poached filet of sole.
2. It’s not so much the choice of protein; it’s what you did to it: Did you poach it, roast it or grill it? Those techniques create progressively deeper flavors and may call for increasingly bigger wines.
3. Is there a sauce? Same story as #2: it’s what you did to it. Is it a rich reduction or a light, citrus-based sauce? You could go for a complement: butter sauce with buttery Chardonnay; or create a contrast: the richness of the butter sauce is cut by a crisp Sauvignon Blanc.
4. Try putting some of the wine in the sauce to seal the match.
5. Look for a complement: earthy Pinot or Merlot with wild mushroom risotto.
6. Or go for a fun contrast: hot, spicy food with a cool, crisp Riesling, Gewurztraminer or un-oaked Chenin Blanc.
7. Acid warning: if the food is tart, the wine should be at least as high in acid or it will seem flat.
8. Hot and spicy warning: spicy foods bring out bitterness and astringency in wine, so avoid the big tannic reds and go for a fruity, low tannin red or a light, fruity white.

Natalie MacLean was kind enough to forward this pairing tool to us. I checked it out and clearly, she’s not the fan of sparkling wine with food that I am (eggs and Champagne – YES!), but the suggestions are good and it’s definitely worth bookmarking.

Plus, it’s situational! Have you ever enjoyed a meal with your loved one when you’ve been arguing? Or, if you suddenly find yourself with an unexpected afternoon off and sharing a picnic with your sweetie in a beautiful park, you’ll probably be in such a good mood that some Kraft singles and a bottle of White Zin somehow become remarkably tasty. OK – now I’m the one going too far to make a point, but we should never underestimate the influence of frame of mind on appreciation of music, art, food or wine.

That’s not so tough, is it? These are kind of basic guidelines that you can use as a springboard to reach higher and higher heights of wine and food pairing pleasure. And so many people seem to want to know more about this.

St. Vini suggested that to the question “What should we serve with the salmon ravioli?” the answer should be “Whatever you like.” Absolutely! But what’s wrong with having an informed opinion of “Whatever you like”? Is the salmon smoked? Does it have a cream sauce? It’s not about trying to be “correct”. It’s about exploring and having fun with it. In my experience, when people bother to inquire about how to pair wine with their meal it’s not because they want to bore their friends with their mastery of a bunch of rules. It’s because they love wine and food, love to entertain, and want to have a deliciously wonderful time at the dinner table. Hard to argue with that!

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