What you need to know: Pairing Food and Wine

Fear not!- TGG is not turning into a Perfume Blog!

Food and Wine, some pairing are meant to be…

 

 

 

The Pour: Beef and Reds

There is nothing more deliciously satisfying than eating fried snacks, whether fish and chips or pakoras, with a nice cold beer. The effervescence of the beer lifts the fat off the palate and refreshes the taste buds between every crispy, succulent bite. But this is not “pairing” not in the classical way. There is a difference between chasing a particular with food that happens to be nice (like beer with nearly everything, or sparkling water for that matter) and ‘matching’ in its pure form. For our purposes here we will define ‘matching’ or ‘pairing’ to the extraordinary effect that proper coupling has on the liquid being imbibed with the food it is being eaten with and visa versa; in English: the wine makes the food taste better and the food makes the wine taste better. The key word here is ‘better’ as opposed to ‘different’; a mouthful of fresh chilies (or anything Thai for that matter) followed by a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon or  Bordeaux will certainly make both of them different, but in a very awful, acrid way (actually the capsaicin in the chili, the actual compound which makes them spicy, reacts chemically with astringent tannins inherently in big red wines to produce a taste and sensation in the mouth unlike sucking on metal or chewing on aluminum foil).

Paring is an art form, not a science and while some people do it well, few, pros included, do it exceptionally well. The difference between a good pairing and a great pairing can be the absence or presence of a mild religious experience; but few ever reach it. Attempts, have of course, been made to reach a formulaic concensus: ‘white wines with white meat and red wines with red…’ and so on. These are handy and a great starting point, but what happens when chicken (a white meat) is char-roated in a tandoor giving it a slight smokiness that is enlivned by masala? Sure some whites will do well (buttery chardonnay or big Alsatian pinot gris), but some reds are better apt to tackle the heartiness of a murg tikka (petit syrah, shiraz, zinfandel, Grenache etc). What happens when the meat in question, whether beef or otherwise, is simply cooked and tossed with coriander, lime juice, freshly sliced onions, fish sauce and a hint of chilies? The inherent wualities of a red wine would clash unabashedly, like a joke in a funeral, with the acidity of the lime juice and the overall ‘green’ flavours of the coriander- this is white wine terrirtoy all the way (Gruner Veltliner, Australian Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, white Bordeaux, qurily Italian whites et al.)

For every rule there is an exception, especially in wine, nothing is solidly black or white, but shades of grey. There are, of course, a couple tricks to keep in mind:

The geography rule

Like with like:  the terroir-food principle

Sancerre is a small village on the east- of the Loire river in eastern France. Fourteen villages are allowed to make the wine labeled as Sancerre and always if white, only made from Sauvignon Blanc. One of those villages happens to be the village of Chavignol, home of the world famous hockey puck-shaped goat cheese; crottin du chavignol. The food grew up around the traditional flavours of the sorrounding areas wine culture and, conversely the wine was made within the context of the prevailing food culture and its flavours. Which is to say that there is no better pairing in the world than a buful Crottin du Chavignol with a steely and flinty Sancerre. Of course this can be extended to say that Sauvigon Blancs do very well with goat cheese overall; no matter where the cheese or the saivnong blanc are from.  What is the best wine with a tuscan steak? Tuscan wine. What does one best pair with Shnitzel and kndoel? German wine, etc. In Alsace the diet conisits of mostly sausages, saur kraut and foie gras, the wine pair, naturally, seamlessly.

Context of where the wine is from and the sorrounding food will tell you most of what you need to know about a successful pairing or at least which elements the wines go best with.

The minefield

Zero-in on the dominant flavors

Indian cuisine is characterized by its complex and layered flavours, in short, there’s a lot happening. The same goes true of many cuisines in Asia, Latin America, and the Carribean. It is futile to then try and compliment all the various flavours to the wine with 100% accuracy; instead focus on the dish’s dominant flavor. If the dominant flavor is the char from the grill then match the wine to that. If the dominant flvor is tomato, then match the wine to that- this will yield a much higher degree of success.

The pink truth

Pink with Pink

Shrimp, roast beef sandwiches,  and certain sushi and sahimi (think salmon and hamachi) is betuiful with dry rose.

The Meursault + sandwich

The simple vs. complex rule

If the food is very complex and incredibly multi-layered choose a simpler wine. If the dish is rather simple with one or two dominant flavours then the wine should be multi-layered, expressive and complex; otherwise both compete and none win.

Think a buttery, deep, profound and ethereal chardonnay with a biryanni or a simple, but delicious, fruity and spice-laden red Zinfandel or Shiraz with a tandoori raan.

The Decision

 

Compliment before contrast

It is easier to compliment the wine wih the food than to contrast it, although contrasting yields the greatest pleasure. If the dish has citrus flavors then the wine should too (think sauvignon blanc). If the wine has hints of cinnamon and gamyness in the nose, then the food should to (think lamb). A contrast is a much harder manouvre and definalty fraught with risk but worth if done right (a chardonnay with mushroom risotto).

The Exception

Wine enemies with food

There are just certain things in food, whether they are compunds enzymes or otherwise which have a negative effect ont eh taste of wine; there are things you just can’t pair (kind of) and you just need to accept it. Wine enemies are things like artichokes, asparagus, excessive acidity ( Salad? Forget) it!, chilies, and sweetness (like dessert; dessert wines being the exception, but here, the wine needs to be sweeter than dessert for it to work).

There is only one wine in the world that can tackle artichokes, asparagus and chilies without a problem, and that is the darling of the moment, dry fino or manzanilla sherry.

The trick

The Chili conundrum

The enemy: capsaicin. There is no getting around this (sort of). The dicsion for me is made at the onset (especially when I’m in South-East Asia) either a) eat spicy and love it or b) have it mild and enjoy wine with it, otherwise the local beer will suffice. Chilies, black pepeer etcetera reach with the tannins of red wine often making the wine taste metallic and the food even spicier. There are evry few instances where the world can meet happliyl (see my note about tandoori raan with Shiraz or Zinfandel) and the trick here is “perceptual sweetness”; or,in other words frutiniess. If you absiluty must ead very very spicy and insist on drinking wine with it then opt for wines whoch are fruitier and off-dry to sweet. The sweetness balances out the chilies. A sauternes (the sweet wine from the southern region of Bordeaux in France can be wonderful with very spicy food (believe it or not) and the chilis make the wine less sweet. But no matter what, chili and drink at your own risk

The unlikely

Experiment…

Remember, if at first you fail, try and try again. One of my most wonderful food and wine memories was in New Delhi with the  indomitable local wine personality, Sanjay Menon at Dumpukht restaurant at the Hyatt orderig dish after dish surrounded by nearly a dozen bottles of wine; from super-Tuscans to obscure Spanish wines… and the wines paring were great! Burmese lobster bisque? Madeira. Butter chicken? HUGE Chardonnay or a Clos Coulee de la Serrant (an odd little wine the Loire Valley’s famous Nicolas Joly). French fries? Champagne! The sky is the limit.

The hunch

Follow you palate.

In everything, whether a novie or an expert, your palate will let you know whether you have landed on liquid gold, or liquid lead. Trust yourself, you palate is your guide and will seldom let you down. At the end of the day it does not matter what I say, or what any of the world’s selfrighout wine exprts purport to know. What matters is that you like it. So if you want to eat fried chilies with a bottle of Cheval Blanc, be my guest, but don’t say I didn’t warn you!

MY favourite pairings

Hot and salty French Fries
Champagne, poreffarbly Krug, Jaquesson or anything iwht a bit more body.
Spicy Tuna Roll
Rose d’Anjou or Tavel or any other um, masculine, dry rose.
Chicken Tikka
Big new world chardonnay; Calfornia or Australia
Hamburger
Syrah, shiraz, Grenache, or Zinfandel
Life Champagne, for everything, always champagne

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