Pairings: Exploring Wine and Food

11 Feb

Tip: Pair the wine with the Dominant Food Flavor.

This is the first blog in a series that explores different types of wines, foods and how they pair.

Many people tell me that they pick a wine that they like, independent of the food they’re about to eat, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Others say they don’t know how to choose a wine to go with their food, or visa versa, and that’s OK too. The upside it that a good pairing will increase the enjoyment of both the food and the wine.

While many pairing principles provide guidance, and there are so-called “classic” pairings, in the end “pairing” is about experience. Everyone has different food likes and dislikes, and the same goes for wines and other beverages. Combinations of food and wine have an even greater variety than either alone. Choosing wine and food combinations is very individualistic and certainly not a science. The “best” pairing may change with your mood, the atmosphere, over time, etc.

That being said, knowing principles can help with making better pairing choices. This article starts with the principle of pairing the dominant flavor in a food with the wine. That is, consider the strongest flavor, not the protein, in making the pairing. As an example, for chicken it may be the sauce more than the chicken itself that should be paired. For chicken with cream sauce a well-balanced chardonnay, like Shannon Ridge ($14) or Tobin James ($19) is a good choice. The chardonnay adds a bit of creaminess to complement the cream sauce, while citrus or other fruit notes at the same time provides a nice contrast. On the other hand, for Chicken with Mushroom Sauce, a pinot noir like the Heron ($17) or Four Bears ($20) is a good pairing. Pinot noir, a classic pairing with mushrooms provides some earthiness to match the mushrooms and red fruit as a contrast. Note that not just any chardonnay or pinot noir will pair well. Some (un-oaked) chardonnays have not creaminess, and some pinot noirs are mostly fruit driven, without much earthiness. If you’re not sure, ask at your local fine wine shop to help make a good pairing more likely.

Future blogs will cover various types of wines and pairing combinations and principles. In the meantime, try different combinations to find out what works and doesn’t work for you. If a chardonnay paired with creamy-sauced chicken doesn’t work for you, try something different. Many other choices, such as a sauvignon blanc or Riesling, may work. Instead of pinot noir with the mushroom chicken, try a malbec or a nebbiolo. The more you try different combinations, the more you’ll learn what you like

One place to get some experience is at Pairings Wine and Food, 600 Main St., Winchester, MA, where every Saturday 6 wines are paired with 6 foods from 4-7 pm, no charge.

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