The Wine Life

Food and wine—the perfect pairing

Andrew McCreery CS, CSW, d’Vine Gourmet

Friends arriving, table set, glasses polished and in order, food prepared and candles lit, everything thing ready for the perfect dinner party. Yet doubt still remains, will the Halter Ranch Paso Robles Cabernet go with the Southwest Stroganoff?

One of the true innovators and pioneers in the field of food and wine pairing is Tim Hanni, Master Chef, Certified Wine Educator and most importantly, Master of Wine (one of the first Americans to gain that accreditation… think Supreme Court Justice of the Wine world). His class, the Cause and Effect of Wine and Food revolutionized the industry’s approach to Food & Wine, and I had the good fortune to attend many of his seminars on this. From one of the most learned people in the world on this topic, you would think a long list of do’s and don’ts would fill his presentation; quite the contrary, in fact his approach is one of exploration and tearing down said rules, such as the classic “only drink big red wines with beef”. He explains the reasons why often times the wines and foods that seemingly have no chance of working together frequently work the best. Oysters and a huge Syrah? Why not? Pork ribs and Sauvignon Blanc? Of course! Tradition may tell us to stick with one color or varietal based on your entrée, but really, what is the cost of transcending those traditions and replacing limitations with flavorful exploration? And what may work well together today may be not quite right tomorrow…tradition isn’t always so adaptable.

The “rules” are not about the food or the wine; it is about our perception of both at the time they are enjoyed. The classic example of this is drinking orange juice after brushing your teeth. The orange juice did not change; your perception of it did because of the interaction with the tooth paste. While every person’s perceptions and tastes are different there are several ‘truths’ to how foods and wines interact. If you were to get a wine subscription, you would be able to form a much better idea of how these different wines interact with the food you eat.

Desserts and sweet foods will increase the astringency and bitter flavors in a wine and reduce the perception of sweetness.

Spicy food will magnify the intensity of a wine’s tannins and bitterness. Try pairing an Ancho chili demi glaze on a filet mignon with a hearty Cabernet…its off the chart!

Foods with a high amount of acidity, sourness and salt will decrease the perception of bitterness in a wine and will make it appear richer yet more mellow and smooth, which is a nice contrast to your tart dish, making the sweet wine even sweeter.

Combinations of sweetness and sourness in food can cancel each other out depending on the concentration level of each. Pair with whichever the dominate flavor is, or better yet throw caution to the wind and get two completely different wines.

Cream and cheese based dishes, which often weigh the palate down after a few bites, work well with wines high in acid, say a Sauvignon Blanc. The acid in the wine will cut through the fats and cleanse your taste buds leaving them fresh for the next bite.

One trick to ensure your meal will pair well with most any wine is to ensure that the food has a good level of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice. Often time these elements in small amounts would hide in most sauces and preparations. This will tone down the perception of bitterness and astringency of most wines. However this will increase the sweetness in sweet wines.

So follow Tim’s advice to pair that stroganoff with the unexpected, a Riesling perhaps? However Tim would probably say drink the wine that you like best and everything, with perhaps a dash of salt and squeeze of lemon, will work out tastefully.