A Beginner's Guide to Pairing Wine with Food - Part One|
by Wen Zientek-Sico
Confused by which wines to serve with different foods? Let this article give you some basic guidelines on what wines go best with all sorts of dishes, including those tricky exceptions to the basic rules.
There are few things more traumatizing to the beginning entertainer than selecting the perfect wines for a party. Whether you are just serving simple appetizers or a multiple course meal, it can sometimes seem very difficult to mix and match wine and food. In reality, it is quite easy. All it takes is a little confidence, a little knowledge, and the ability to shrug off the almost inevitable mismatches. No one has ever died from a bad match of wine and food, so don't be so scared of it! As long as you follow some basic guidelines and go with what you like you are almost assured of constant success with your pairings.
For a very long time there were overly rigid "rules" of choosing a wine. They varied from person to person and some even included standards such as not serving certain types of wines in certain seasons, never serving wine with dishes with vinegar in them, and the most infamous rule of all "red for red and white for white." While there are reasons behind many of these rules, the thousands of different wines available make it exceedingly hard to classify wines in such broad terms.
The following are just general guidelines. The most important tip or guideline I can offer you is to rely on your own taste buds and personal preferences. They are much more important than any advice I can give you.
Let's deal with the most bandied about rule, "red with red and white with white," first. There is a very good point to this rule, and that is many red wines are better suited to red meat, while some white wines are preferable with white meat. The important point to make is that not all red meat should be served with red wine and not all white meat should be served with white wine. In addition, many red wines cannot stand up to some dishes made with red meat and quite a few white wines are too strong for more delicately flavored poultry and fish dishes.
Confused yet? It actually is quite simple once you break it down a little bit. Basically, you cannot just group all red wines in one group or all red meat in one group. Depending upon the type of wine, the type of meat, and the way the meat is prepared, there are many different combinations that work beautifully together. I have listed below the way the general rule works as well as the exceptions.
Serve robust meat dishes like roast beef with a very strong dry red wine. Cabernet Sauvignon, Chianti, Pinot Noir, and Charbono are examples that wines that are hearty enough to serve alongside powerfully flavored dishes and hold their own. A light Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc would get lost in the taste of the strong food. Not all reds are created equal, and a very mild red wine such as Beaujolais would get lost when served with a beef or lamb roast.
Delicately flavored fish and seafood should be served with a gentle white wine so as not to overpower their subtle flavor. A robust red wine or very tannic wines like an immature Cabernet will overpower most fish dishes, or even cause a very nasty metallic taste when consumed together. My picks for mild seafood would have to be a crisp Pinot Grigio or a lovely Sauvignon Blanc.
There are quite a few exceptions to this rule. First and foremost is one of my favorite combinations which is a rich red Chianti or other warm Italian red wine when eating bouillabaisse, paella, or other rich Mediterranean dishes that include seafood along with robust spices and tomatoes. Most white wines would simply disappear when eaten this way. Any preparation with really rich spices or strong sauce should be well balanced with a hearty white, a moderately robust red, or a lovely rosť.
There are other instanced when fish and seafood go best with red wine. While lobster, scallops, and shrimp are almost always too delicate to be paired with a full bodied red wine, seafood like mussels and oysters go well with a red wine because of their strong rich flavor. Tuna and salmon can oftentimes be paired with a red wine, particularly if they are broiled or grilled for optimum flavor. Bluefish or mackerel also go well with many red wines, while a fish like sole could never stand up to even a mild red wine. When pairing red wines with fish and seafood it is extremely important to avoid tannic wines. Choose a light fruity wine like a Pinot Noir or Beaujolais, even with a strong fish, for best results.
Read Part Two where we continue the discussion about white versus red and talk about pairing wine with poultry, favorite holiday meals, pork, veal, vegetarian dishes, ethnic food, spicy food, other courses, and more.
Images courtesy ArtToday.