Thursday, June 23, 2011

Wine and Food Pairing

Burger and fries ... Steak, mushrooms and a baked potato with sour cream ... Macaroni and cheese.

Am I making you hungry?

Everyone has a favourite food combination or comfort food that has a special place in their psyche or stomach. I don't think that a burger and broccoli or a cheeseburger with mashed potatoes is as appetizing as a big juicy BBQ'd burger with all the fixin's and some golden brown french fries on the side. It's interesting how we can easily pair our favourite foods but when it comes to pairing a wine with a meal, some people have a really difficult time. They will usually default to the old standard rules of red wine with red meat and white wine with chicken or fish.
 I recently finished a wine and food pairing course in my Sommelier program which really opened my eyes and taste buds to new ideas about pairing food and wine. Now I certainly can't do justice to the course by trying to capture all of the pairing information in this blog but I can give out some worth while information to help people get started with wine pairing. So here's a few of my "markucorked" rules to follow when you are pairing food and wine.

markuncorked Rule #1 - Everyone is different when it comes to food and wine tastes. Some people like a Shiraz and some people don't so if you whip up a dish of spicy Tandori chicken, pair it with a peppery Aussie Shiraz and a few of your dinner guests turn there nose up at the taste, don't take it personal. Not everyone likes the same food or the same wine as you do.

markuncorked Rule #2 - There are 2 ways to pair food. You can pair similar textures and tastes like a buttery flavoured Chardonnay with lobster and butter or you can contrast them like a sweet port and Stilton cheese (sweet and salty). There's no right or wrong here. It's all about what you like but don't be afraid to mix and match different wines with foods that have different tastes, textures and flavours. You're looking for a magical pairing that leaves you with a feeling like you've discovered a new element on the periodic table.

markuncorked Rule #3 - If you can, take a wine and food pairing dinner or course. Reading a bunch of  books about wine and food pairing is no substitute for actually sitting down and sampling a variety of wines and dishes prepared by a professional. There are a number of local restaurants that offer wine and food pairing dinner packages. Go with a few friends and make it a fun night out. You won't regret it.

Now that you have a couple of basic rules, here's some tidbits you should know about your taste buds.
  • Sweetness in food makes your wine taste less sweet or more tart so watch out for foods that have a natural sweetness to them. Remember that the wine must always be sweeter than the paired food. This is particularly true for desserts which have high sugar levels. Pinot Grigio's and Chardonnays will taste like vinegar if they are paired with a dessert like creme brule.
  • Tannins in wine makes bitter foods taste even more bitter. This is really apparent when a tannic wine like a Cabernet Sauvignon is paired with a salad. The bitterness of an endive, lettuce or radicchio is accentuated by the tannins. Not a pleasant taste in your mouth.
  • Foods like chicken, white fish or pork don't really have their own flavour. They rely on the sauce, spice or way the chef prepares the food so when you are picking a wine to pair with chicken, fish or pork think less about the meat and more about how it's cooked. Thai chicken is a completely different from Coq au Vin so you don't try to pair it with the same type of wine. 
I always laugh when I look on the back of a wine bottle and the tasting note says "pairs well with chicken". It's like the note on the back of a first aid kit "Use in case of an emergency". That's a little obvious! I will talk more about food pairings in future blogs but this should help some of those people who wander the LCBO aisles endlessly looking for a wine to match with dinner.

Here's my picks for this week

Darting - 2008 - Riesling Kabinett - Pfalz Germany

This is a medium sweet wine with a light golden yellow colour in the glass. There's aromas of pear and stone fruit and it's also a bit floral. There's a substantial amount of residual sugar to balance the acidity and with a ABV of 9.7%, it is a sipping wine. I tried pairing this wine with a port flavoured pate but I found that it didn't quite work. It might work better with a spicy dish like BBQ Italian sausages.
Price - under $16 (LCBO)
I tried this wine as an experiment in food pairing. While it didn't work out for what I tried, there are certainly other spicy dishes that this wine would work well with. 

Cline - 2009 - Ancient Vine Zinfandel - Oakley California

I have tried Cline Zinfandel before and it was nice but it didn't impress me. However, this Ancient Vine Zinfandel is really quite nice. It's dark rich red colour with jammy aromas and flavours of dark berries, vanilla and a bit of chocolate really standout. It has a nice long dark berry finish with some vanilla at the end. Very impressive.
Price - under $18 (LCBO)
I like this wine because it shows that while some mainstream wineries continue to push out products in mass quantities with less quality there are still some people in the wine industry that put in the extra effort for a quality wine.

Cheers !