Champagne pairs with some many delicious things! Especially fried chicken. Who knew? The Krug lineup from Grande Cuvee to Rose. Photo cred: Haute Living
Some things are just meant to go together. Peanut butter and jelly, Wayne and Garth, milk and cookies, Brad and Angelina, Jagermeister and fist pumping d-bags. You get the idea. In the world of wine and food pairings I always thought this was the case as well. There is ultimately one wine that is meant to pair with one dish. This idea was put to rest after an enlightening class at Southern Wine & Spirits in Chicago with Master Sommelier, Serafin Alvarez. “Experiment!,” Sarafin said. “Reference tasting ‘rules’ as guide posts but go from there.”
Wayne and Garth. A perfect pairing indeed.
Food and beverage pairing is not just a snobby pastime for high brow socialites who own wine cellars and ponies. You probably pair your food and drink everyday. Why do you put ketchup on your french fries? Or put cream in your coffee? Or crave a big glass of milk with your chocolaty brownie? They enhance the overall taste! It’s also all about personal taste preference. This became apparent during the food and wine pairing class when all the students voted on the what pairings they liked best. Some people loved the Carneros Chardonnay with the beef tenderloin. Others thought is sucked. Just because you think mayonnaise and lettuce sandwiches with a big glass of Chablis is gross doesn’t mean someone else doesn’t find it delicious. One man’s fav food and bev pairing may activate another man’s gag reflex.
While food and wine pairing is relatively subjective there are some general rules to keep in mind. Remember that there is not one perfect wine to pair with one perfect dish (although there are some classically awesome pairings, I’ll get to that later) but there is such a thing as an offensive/terrible pairing. A bev and food pairing is meant to enhance both the drink and the food. That is what I like to call a party in your mouth (or #partyinmymouth because I think hash tags are hilariously awesome). Let the mouth fiesta begin!
Some things to remember when pairing food and beverages:
1) Consider your sauces and spices, not just the main ingredient
The sauces and spices used when preparing a dish really define the final flavors of what you’re eating. When I first started studying wine about 5 years ago, the Master Sommelier at the restaurant I was working at would constantly challenge me to give a full description of the dish I would pair with a wine and why. Chicken and Chardonnay was not a complete answer. Is the chicken broiled and finished with a beurre blanc or grilled and topped with a pomodoro tomato sauce?? Often times the sauce truly defines the dish and what type of wine should be paired with the meal.
2) Big, bold, high alcohol wines very rarely go with delicate, light dishes
That big, tannic Cabernet is going to drown out the flavors of tuna sashimi. We want to complement and highlight both the wine and the food not squash the other one’s awesomeness. Often times when high tannin wine (like Cabernet) is matched with certain fish (mackerel, sardines or other fish of the oily seafood variety) a metallic taste is created. Ain’t no one want their meal to taste like they’re chewing aluminum foil. Or maybe there’s a huge underground scene of aluminum foil chewing enthusiasts I have yet to meet. Anywho, opt for a lighter wine when you’re toting a bottle to your fav BYOB sushi spot and you can’t go wrong.
3) High acid plus high acid equals awesome
High acid wines (like Sauvignon Blanc, Champagne or German Riesling) are great food pairing wines. Acid cuts through richness and highlights the components of a dish. The acid of wine must always meet or exceed the acid in food. For example, a spinach salad tossed in a vinaigrette would taste a little funky with an oaky, buttery Chardonnay from Napa (low acid wine) but a Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand (high acid wine) would brighten the flavors of both the wine and the food.
3) Spicy food ❤ low alcohol
Spicy Indian or Asian dishes can be difficult to pair. Lower alcohol wine like Riesling or Gewurtztraminer are friendly pairings with spicy foods because the slight sweetness of the wine cuts through the heat of these types of dishes. Think of high alcohol wine as lighter fluid when added to spicy dishes. Don’t ignite that spice with high alcohol booze!
4) Acid cuts through rich, fatty, buttery and salty foods
As previously mentioned, Champagne is a high acid wine. Cue the rich dishes! The high acid of bevs like Champagne cuts through the rich, saltiness of foods like fried chicken or potato chips. Pop that bottle and that bag of Cheetos, yo!
5) When in doubt, rock out a regional pairing
There is a natural relationship between food and wine from a certain part of the world.
Think red sauce pizza and Italian red
Italians know how to do it: Pizza and Italian red wine. Yum!
wine. Or grilled meats and dry, red Rioja of Spain. Food and beverage traditions are imbedded in the history of an area. Sometimes it’s OK to accept and embrace these pairings.
SOME EXAMPLES OF CLASSIC FOOD & WINE PAIRINGS:
Goat Cheese & Sauvignon Blanc (or Sancerre)
High acid cheese meets high acid wine. They fall in love and make beautiful music together…in your mouth
Steak & Cabernet Sauvignon
A big, high tannin red like Cab refreshes the palate after each bite of that fat, juicy red meat
Stilton Blue Cheese & Port
Salty meets sweet and magic happens
Foie Gras & Sauternes
Rich and oily Foie complemented by the sweet richness of the Sauternes. Ah.Maz.Ing.
I also asked some of my friends and colleagues in the food and bev biz what some of their fav pairings were. Below are their awesome responses:
Chicago’s legendary fried chicken from Harold’s. Pic from Darren Leow @ The Chicago Maroon
“Krug and Harold’s Fried Chicken (legendary Chicagoland chicken joint). That sound was my mike dropping.” – Patti Robison, Balena Restaurant Beverage Director & Sommelier, Chicago, IL.
“My ideal pairing is Z Burger (Washington, DC burger joint) with extra pickles and Z sauce (like a horseradishy 1000 Island dressing) with a triumphant side of Red Skins victory. Nothing quite like it…or Bells Two Hearted Ale is delicious too.”- Ryan Hansan, Founder/Owner Scratch DC, Washington, DC.
“My favorite pairing is Champagne and Cheetos. I also love Rosso di Montalcino and red sauce pizza, and my new favorite is Muscadet sur lie with crab cakes.” – Priscilla Martin, Balena Restaurant Wine Steward, Chicago, IL.
“Prosecco and chicken tikka masala!” – Lisa Lamont, my little sis and fellow food enthusiast, Washington, DC.
“Best recent pairing was a sausage, mushroom, and bitter greens soup with a Charmat method sparkling Chenin Blanc. The spice and bitterness of the soup was countered by the sweet grassy flavor of the Chenin. Of course bubbles and temperature contrast.” – Keith Whitten, Balena Restaurant Sommelier, Chicago, IL.
“I suggest pairing Perennial Artisan Ale’s Woodside Honey Tripel* with Orange or Kung Pao Chicken. Woodside is a Belgian-style triple brewed with urban honey produced in Maplewood, Missouri. The combination produces a beer with a very slight residual sweetness enhanced by the spicy, fruity attributes of the yeast and soft malt characteristic. This beer will bring out the sweetness of the chicken dish, while complementing the spiciness.” – Kerry Bryan, Sales & Marketing Manager, Perennial Artisian Ales, St. Louis, MO.
Beer & cheese. A match made in pairing heaven.
“Rochefort 10 (dark Belgian Ale) and Cocoa Cardona (aged goat’s milk cheese rubbed with cocoa powder). Because, duh, beer and cheese. But seriously, the dusty cocoa makes nice with the chocolatey roasted malt and natural acidity of the cheese brings the sweetness of the beer in check. Yum yum.” – Erin Phillips, Balena Restaurant General Manager, Cicerone (certified beer expert) and Certified Sommelier, Chicago, IL.
“The best food and beverage pairing I’ve had recently was an un-oaked Chardonnay from Oregon with a pan-seared halibut. The delicate flavor and firm texture of the halibut was a perfect fit for the bright, yet clean Chardonnay. Chardonnay from Oregon is not often seen, but if you get your hands on one, it will be delicious and incredibly food-friendly, seeing very little to no oak. There is great acidity, great fruit and an elegance that the French would approve of. Paired with a fresh catch of the day is the perfect way to enhance your dining experience, without feeling like you overdid it. However, overindulgence and Fernet is my second favorite pairing.” – Katie Kelly, Wine Director, Citizen Wine Bar & Niche Hospitality Group, Worcester, MA.
*The beer is currently available at Binny’s, Armenetti’s Grand & Western and Puerto Rico Food & Liquors.
Wayne and Garth and Garth and Wayne. Excellent! #TBT Halloween 2k5
Serafin Alvarez, M.S., Southern Wine & Spirits Wine Educator, Grapes to Glass: Mastering the Essentials of Wine