By Kori ~ July 6th, 2010.
At the recent Wine Bloggers Conference in Walla Walla, Washington, one of my favorite sessions of the weekend was the Food and Wine Pairing Seminar with chef Jeffrey Saad, the runner up on season 5 of The Next Food Network Star. Jeffrey is a 25-year food industry veteran and restaurateur. He has a dynamic personality, and the tips he shared with us got me even more excited about the possibilities when pairing wine with food. So, I am passing along some of his tips in the hopes that it will answer some of your questions about food and wine pairing and give you more confidence when selecting a wine to go with dinner.
General thoughts on food and wine pairing
- Sometimes the food is good, and sometimes the wine is good. When you put them together, if either one is worse, then you haven’t got your match. But when the two come together to make both better, that’s when it is incredible.
- Everything that you need to know about food and wine matching and food and wine pairing, you can really learn from the idea of a Coke with a pizza. It seems like such a natural fit, but there are two lessons to be learned there. First of all, it’s repetition. It is something you’ve had and done your whole life. It seems totally natural. The pizza has rich, melted cheese. Coke has a little bitterness. That balances the cheese out. The tomato sauce has acidity, and the acidity in the Coke cancels it out. Also, you may have a little bit of spiciness in the tomato sauce so the sweetness in the Coke balances the spiciness.
- Think of wine as an additional condiment you are adding to the meal.
- You should trust your mouth. You know what you like, so enjoy it.
- The tools you need for food and wine: tongue, nose, and love.
- Acid is king. If you are ever in doubt, default to acid. That is the thing that really makes your tongue receive everything well and brings everything into balance.
When in doubt, try to go with a match. Contrasting works but can be a touch trickier because you can throw off the balance.
- Acid with Acid – A nice vinaigrette that has acidity with a white wine that has good acidity. The two cancel each other out and all of the other flavors come forward. Examples: Lemon vinaigrette with Grüner Veltliner. Bolognese with Sangiovese.
- Fat with Acid – Lemon juice with fish. Example: Halibut with a citrusy Sauvignon Blanc that has good acidity.
- Protein (or animal fat) with Tannin – Animal fat serves as a speed-aging agent and softens the tannins. Both soften each other and the fruit comes forward in the wine. Example: Kobe beef and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Sweet with Sweet – One of the trickiest pairings. You want the wine to be at least as sweet as the food. Otherwise, sweet food will just spank the fruit right out of the wine, and you’ll be left with this insipid, thin, watery wine. When you take a really sweet dessert and sip a really sweet wine, the sweet level goes way down, and all of the flavors of the dessert come together.
- Spicy with Sweet – Avoid tannin. Spice does not like tannin. Spice accelerates the tannin. Example: Spicy Thai food with an off-dry or sweet Gewurztraminer.
- Cheese is in a category by itself. Cheese by itself is like a fat injection. It’s like solid fat richness. Riesling or any wine with some sweetness can be a great match. Cheese can strip a big red wine of its tannin. The only cheeses that really work with red wine are aged cheeses. When cheese ages, the acidity level comes down and the nuttiness comes up, and then it really brings out the best flavor in the wine. For rich, creamy cheeses, a safe bet is a sweet or off-dry white wine with some good acidity. The sweetness cuts the salt. The acidity cuts the richness. You get a wonderful balance.
- Nuts are really funky with tannin. So you want to avoid nuts with red wine. A better choice would be a fat Chardonnay.
- When in doubt, go with geography. Example: If you are in an Italian restaurant having Italian food, order an Italian wine.
- Red Wines and chocolate? Milk chocolates do not work with red wines because you get so much of the fat that really strips away the tannin in the wine so you lose the wine. Darker chocolates can be really interesting with red wines, though. A darker chocolate has bitterness to it but still has the cocoa butter so it can balance the tannins. Examples: Zinfandel or a Southern Rhone blend with dark chocolate. You get some fruit, but the tannins aren’t as huge.
Three “safe” wines for food and wine pairings (good options when you are not sure what to do)
- Rosé – Dry rosés are brilliant because they have just enough acidity to work with salads and pickled items but have just enough fruit to match up and give body and character to go with some spicy things. And they also have just a little bit of tannin, which makes them work with most proteins.
- Champagne – Champagne works with so much because of its low alcohol. Low alcohol doesn’t get in the way of salt and a touch of sweetness makes them work.
- Barbera – Barbera has huge, bright fruit and lots of acidity. It really works with so many foods.
Look for that offbeat funky wine and food match that works for you. That’s what it is all about. The guidelines above are just the basics and should set you up for success. But after that, it’s an adventure, and you have to find your own pairings.
Bon Appétit and Cheers!
Filed under: Food & Wine, Wine Activities/Events