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


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
Syrah, shiraz, Grenache, or Zinfandel
Life Champagne, for everything, always champagne

Bordeaux Vintage Round up: The Buying Guide- PAUILLAC 2009

IF Margaux is elegance and flowers; vinified potpourri, and St. Julien vinous garam-masala (Indian spice mix) then Pauillac is a leather-couch-ed cigar-room. From a lithe Margaux, to a irreverently flirtatious St. Julien, we go to something with brawniness and a whopping punch of tannins, brown spices and all the preciously Englihsh descriptors so often associated with claret: dark cassis, fresh pencil shavings, tobacco, cedar etc.

Chateau Pichon-Longueville Baron

In truth, I have always said that Pauillac is the proto-typical Bordeaux: it has the litany of flavours and aromas that are what most people talk about when they talk about Bordeaux.

Paulliac of course also boasts three of the five First Growths: Chateau Latour, Mouton-Rotschild and Lafite; although here the difference in character has more to do with there they are relative to the two contiguous appellations on its borders; St. Julien to the south and St. Estephe to the north.

The Place

Herein is the intriguing thing about these estates, Chateau Latour located at the most extreme south of the appellation (a frog could jump from Latour’s Pauillac vinyards to the adjacent vinyeards of St. Julien Chateau Beychevelle with little to no effort)-( a small estuary, the Ruisseau de Juillac serves as the borderline between the two). In contrast Chateau Lafite is located ath the most northern extreme of the appellation; the venerable estate is a stone’s throw away from Chateau Cos d’Estournel almosty literally across the street. Between the southern most vineyards of the appellation which include those of Chateau Batailley, the Pichon-Longuevilles (Baron and Comtesse) there is a wide spance of mostly Cru Classe Vineyards with, going from South to North (Chateau Latour towards Chateau LAfite) one passes by Pauillac’s other infamous names: Chateay Beychevelle, Lynch-Bages, and after a bit of a break when in the northern part of the appellation Chateau Pibran and more notably Pontet-Canet.

The "second label" of Pichon-Longueville Comtesse

I go through this painful recounting to illustrate a point and that is that we currenly, for the sake of the 1855 classification and our own sanity have divided up the northern Medoc into four major appellations (five if you count Haut-Medoc) but the truth is that even within Paulliac (a mere 8 kilometers or so top to bottom)there does exists ‘sub appellations’ if you will and some subtle differences between estates depending on when they are on the map and the subsoil’s. Here I refer to the differences (slight as they may be) between the wines of and around St. Lambert whifs of mild spice but heaftier, Bages and Pauillac proper, and further north when they become more angular (in a good way) in Pouyalet. But this is getting a bit excruciating. These variations are less notable in St. Julien as most of Estate’s vineyards are plots scattered across the appellation and through blending you end up with a faitly consistent set of wines, regardless of the estate, in different degrees of excellence. Some of that also goes for Margaux (which boasts several little-known ‘pseudo-sub appellations’), Pauillac less so.

Okay- if you’re new to the Bordeaux game forget all the BS above: just know this: Pauillac= powerful, red and brown flavors, proto-typical Bordeaux, drunk best after a decade or two depending on the estate and vintage. Overall 2009 Pauillac shined with far less inconsistencies than Margaux’s minefield

If you like smoking jackets and cigars (and most of you do…) then you’ll like Pauillacs. Pauillacs are smoking jackets, cigars and velvet slippers personified.

The following is a list of wines from the Pauillac region from the 2009 vintage. The wines were all tasted March 29th in a controlled temperature room out of Riedel wine glasses. The wines were not tasted blind. All wines were barrel samples. Any exception to the above are noted. Notes by Alejandro Ortiz.

Alejandro’s Ratings:

O/P: Ok/ Poor

G: Good

VG: Very Good

GR: Great

E: Excellent (an intermediary between Great but not Fantastic)

FA: Fantastic

AM: Amazing

The first sub rating a “+” or “-“ is given for original impression on the nose and palate followed by a subsequent sub-rating for it’s overall performance within its rating.

  • Chateau Grand Puy-Ducasse
    • VG—
      • Muscled red fruit, deep and penetrating, tobacco et al: typical Pauillac.
  • Ch. Haut-Batailley
    • VG++-
      • Improving every year- very very nice.
  • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: GR—
    • Bing cherry, earth and very French.
  • Ch. d’Armailhac
    • VG+++
      • Never been a huge fan preffering Clerc-Milon’s playfulness more but this was beautiful, again typical Pauillac nose and taste. Will last!
      • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: G/VG+–
        • Velvety with a core of brambly red fruit and earth.
  • Ch. Clerc-Milon
    • G–+
      • Lighter than I ever remember it, lithe and pretty- but not great.
      • Second Tasting @ UGC Tasting: VG++1
        • Very different than first tasting- much brighter. Buy.
  • Ch. Croizet-Bages
    • VG—
      • Cedar, pines with nice red fruit- wow, what a great value!
  • Ch. Haut-Bages Liberal
    • VG+++
      • Best in a while although it is a very consistent estate- incredibly balanced, supple, red velvety fruit with a core of gaminess. Beautiful.
  • Ch. Lynch-Bages
    • G+++/VG+–
      • Muscular and a tart black fruit background but ostensibly a beautiful wine.
  • Ch. Grand-Puy-Lacoste
    • VG—
      • Lots of tobacco and deep red/brown fruit.
  • Le Petit Mouton
    • G+++
      • Not great (obviously)
  • Ch. Pichon-Baron
    • GR+++
      • Lilac, pink fruits, flower and an overall smooth and silky texture- beautiful! Fabulous, best in years!
  • Second Tasting @ UGC: FA+–
  • Third Tasting @ Chateau Pichon-Baron: FA++-
  • Ch. Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
    • FA
      • Exceptional, my god! Could be confused with a Margaux, so beautiful, so much perfume. Amazing, velvet, red and purple fruit, a strong bouquet of Croatian wild lavender (ok, this may sound like bullshit but I was in and out of Croatia during this time and trust me that’s what it smelled like). Amazing, fabulous.
  • Second Tasting @ Chateau Pichon-Longueville Lalande: FA
    • My goodness, what consistent magic. This, guys, is frightingly exceptional with an undying finesse, great structure and a nearly infinite finish. Very impressed!
  • Third Tasting @ UGC: ?
    • This was so great, and I was so excited, I cannot read any of the notes I wrote about it, I can make out one expletive however.
  • Second Wine: Reserve de la Comtessee: FA
    • Tasted several times and always absolutely fabulous. Try the Latour challenge with this too (see below Latour notes).
  • Ch. Forts de Latour
    • FA+–
      • Holy enamel-peeling-tannins Batman! This boy’s huge! Together with almost every second label this year; there is such a conserted effort being paid to their quality and makeup that there surpass some off vintages of the Grand Vins, moreover they are wines onto themselves usually coming from plots of vines entirely dedicated to their production (as opposed to being blended from the Grand Vin’s leftovers). Spectacular, muscled—I challenge someone out there to serve this blind to a so-called ‘wine expert’ fifteen years from now and I will wager a small car, right here and now, if he doesn’t think this is a Chateau Latour!
  • Ch. Latour
    • FA+++
      • A brooding monster, monolithic, tobacco-dark-chocolate and dark tarry tobacco-dripping wine. Immense, beautiful and could very qualify as a “nuclear holocaust wine” (see previous posts here). Unbelievable.
  • Ch. Mouton
    • GR—
      • Better than I’ve tasted in a while, MUCH better
  • Ch. Lafite-Rothschild
    • AM—
      • Ethereal and magical as always, stupendous.

The Obsession (and yes 2001 is drinking great!)

Overall Impression of the Pauillac 2009

  • GR-FA : great to fantastic

Yes- while I didn’t remember before looking over my notes to write this post that Pauillac certainly provided some of the most memorable wines of the vintage. Moreover it did so consistently. From top to bottom the wines were exuding elegance within the broad-shouldered power that is common to all Pauillacs. These are wines that have upwards of 20-30 years worth of girth and power—but revisiting the irresistibly dismembered 1982’s it’s really anyone’s guess whether wines have been refined to the point of limited longevity. Still these all have a while. Notable, again, because it’s an overall trend this vintage was the high quality of the second labels with some, like Forts de Latour and Comtesse de Lalande being fabulous and complex wines on their own. If investment is what your after then the advice is always simple: buy from the top, and with Pauillac buy a lot and fearlessly.

If you are buying to drink, look for some early maturers like Clerc-Milon, Lacoste-Borie (second wine of Chateau Grand Puy-Lacoste), Lynch-Moussas, and Chateau Bernadotte because the big boys have a long long way to go.

2009 Pauillac Top 3:

  1. Chateau Latour
  2. Chateau Pichon-Longueville Comtesse de Lalande
  3. Chateau Lafite-Rothschild

2009 Pauillac Underdogs (buy to surprise)

  1. Chateau Haut-Batailley
  2. Chateau Haut-Bages Liberal/ Chateau d’Armailhac