The words wine and food may as well be one word because in the minds of many the two are quite simply synonymous. For millennia, wine and food have been paired and married, like men and women. The civility, pleasure, and life-giving properties associated with wine and food constitute a unique human experience, but with anything as revered and powerful as food and wine there have been and probably always will be those inevitable human attempts to proselytize, regulate, and even dictate the covenants under which we enjoy them. To that end, we say: life is just too short.
We believe that our members should be the sole determiners of what they like and their choice of wine pairing. However, over the years, we’ve learned that many appreciate guidance in this matter and hence, we’ve dedicated a portion of each month’s newsletter to suggested food and wine pairings. Unlike, the somewhat rigid rules of yesteryear, which stated rather unequivocally that white wine was to be served exclusively with fish and white meat and that red wine was to accompany only red meat, cheeses, and select dishes, our suggestions are the collective preferences of our tasting panels and are just that: suggestions.
It is our sincere hope that we afford our monthly wine club members the most enjoyable experiences that food and wine can provide, so in response to our members’ needs, we are glad to share the experience, preferences, and collective wisdom of our professional tasting panels.
General Food & Wine Pairing Considerations
Among the members of our tasting panels, there exists a diversity of ages, lifestyles, and personal preferences. Nonetheless, we all strive to derive the ultimate wine pairing with each individual wine we feature, often with much discussion that always yields more than one suggestion, but over the course of time, we have generally agreed on the following: simple, high quality, lightly spiced dishes showcase the subtlety and complexity of the finest wines better than mouth searing spices and full-throttle concoctions, so our preference is let the wine lead the way and not allow food to overwhelm it.
In general, we have found that light white wines, such as Lugana, Pinot Grigio, most dry Rieslings, and un-oaked Mâcon-style Chardonnays shine when paired with light foods or are drunk au naturel or simply on their own. Likewise, intensely flavored white wines like Gewürztraminer, Grüner Veltliner, and some exotic, structured Sauvignon Blanc wines also shine on their own. However, these full-flavored white wines will also stand up to and enhance spicy foods, including Asian cuisines, Mexican dishes, and very strong crusted cheeses – often better than big red wines do.
Many foods seem similarly capable of complementing both red and white wines. Poultry, for example, is equally at home with Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc and other white wines as with Pinot Noir, Merlot, or some of the finest red Bordeaux one can muster to the table. The same can be said for veal, pork, ham, rabbit, and a wide variety of vegetarian fare. Often, the richness of the sauce and the choice of ingredients therein shape our preferences as to whether to serve white or red with a certain type of food, but both extend a warm welcome.
Seafood is one area that seems to gather the greatest consensus among the panel; yet, it also instigates a bit of controversy. Generally, we have experienced that white fish tastes better to us with white wine unless a highly charged tomato based sauce accompanies it. Frequently, we have found that tannic red wines tend to lose their focus and taste steely in the company of white fish, even salmon, and add little to the flavor of the fish. For this reason, we generally avoid pairing Cabernet-based wines, Chiantis, full-bodied Merlots and Syrahs, and most other red wines with seafood, including shellfish. However, tuna, salmon, and a few full-flavored fish make splendid companions to light reds like Pinot Noir. Occasionally, full-bodied, low acid wines like Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape also receive high praise from many members of our tasting panels with tuna, so we sometimes suggest them as a good match.
Beef, Lamb & Game Pairings
Beef, lamb, and game by nature of their rich flavors generally get the nod as the preferred accompaniments to red wine, if for no other reason than the tannins in red wine cut through the fat and muscle of the meat, thereby releasing additional flavors. Also, the body and flavor of most medium to full-bodied reds can match that of meat, something few white wines seem to do as well. Moreover, our basic philosophy on meat and red wine gravitate to the old adage that the better the meat, the greater the red wine.
Pizza, Pasta, Vegetables & Cheese Pairings
When pairing food and wine like pizza, pasta, cheeses, and vegetables, in our experience, whether we prefer white or red with these foods depends more on the sauce, style, or topping. However, what may surprise some serious wine drinkers, particularly red wine aficionados, is the growing consensus among panel members that cheese is often enhanced as much by white wine as red. This is particularly true of crusted cheeses, like Brie and Camembert. In our opinion, red wine favors soft and semi-soft whole milk cheeses. Goat cheese can be interesting with both red and white wines.
Fruits & Desserts Pairings
Nothing can polarize a tasting panel quite like exotic fruit, dessert, and sweets in the company of wine. Nonetheless, red wine and chocolate certainly have its adherents, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and Zinfandel getting the nod as the most enjoyable accompaniments to the world’s most beloved confection. With other sweets, personal choice certainly reigns supreme, with a consensus often difficult to attain.
Check out our Chocolate and Wine Pairings Guide and learn how to create your own chocolate and wine subscription.
Unquestionably, we are of the mind that experimentation is the key to successful food and wine pairing. For the simple reason that experimenting with pairing wine with food is fun. Besides, no one can enjoy another’s palate or tastes, so we encourage our members to be daring and enjoy!