I believe far too much is made of the “proper” wine and food pairings.
I realize that many people have made their life’s work all about telling others which wines go best with which foods, but there are rarely perfect answers here, and even though certain basic guidelines are applicable, even the most authoritative experts often debate with one another.
Many of the food-wine conversations to which I have been a witness have ended up with one person thinking the other is an idiot, and they almost never agree on the specifics.
Generalizations, however — well, that’s another story.
A hearty plate of pasta with a deep, rich, red tomato-based sauce, most experts would agree, calls for a tart red wine that has enough acidity to contend with the acid that’s in the sauce. Like Chianti or barbera.
And experts agree also that a typical chargrilled steak calls for a gutsy red wine such as a cabernet or syrah — a wine with enough oomph to handle the protein and fat in the steak.
When you get down to specific recipes, however, experts usually diverge, with one suggesting one thing and another suggesting another. And for me such precious arguments are like discussing how many angels can disco on the head of a pin.
Veal Forestiere, for example, typically calls for a flavorful, fairly intense red wine that can compete with the mushrooms, Marsala, and butter and red wine sauce. I had this dish several years ago with a fabulous older red French Burgundy, and it was phenomenal.
So, I was a little surprised when I interviewed a wine collector decades ago at a restaurant where he ordered that very dish and chose a gewurztraminer from Alsace to go with it. I asked why he chose that wine.
He said that when he was in his 20s, he had visited Europe and had had that dish, and that a waiter had suggested the white wine to go with it. He said he never forgot how well the flavors married.
Many sommeliers think pinot noir and salmon are the perfect pairing, but I often prefer another wine with that fish.
I usually order salmon rare because it’s a rich, oily fish, and overcooking causes it to lose some of its charm. When it’s rare, I find it often works well with a pinot gris, notably one from a cold region. Such a wine then will have good acids and tannins to contend with the richness of the fish.
Most cream soups also could use assistance from wine. But not just any wine. I adore dry Oloroso sherry with cream soups, and often put a teaspoon of the sherry in the soup!
One basic rule that’s easy to remember: Try to match up the basic flavors of the food with the basic structure of the wine.
Oysters, for example, are briny and tart, so the best companion wine is a lean and tart French Chablis or a sauvignon blanc from the Loire Valley.
And the simplicity of pizza calls for a simple, quaffable red wine, such as Barbera or a zinfandel.
And if a buffet table is laden with numerous different kinds of foods, from meats to light cheeses, probably the best all-purpose choices are a dry rose, or one that’s sparkling, or a light red Beaujolais.
In the final analysis, however, I live by one creed: I’d rather have an excellent “wrong” wine than a poor “right” one.
Wine of the Week: 2021 Triennes Rose, Vin du Pays du Var ($19) — This is annually one of the finest pink wines you can find, with a gorgeous aroma of strawberries and subtle earth tones. It is basically dry and still has some of the rich red-wine notes imparted by the four grapes in the blend, Cinsault, syrah, grenache, and merlot. Really tastes like a white wine with red wine influences. Frequently found at about $15.
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