A Beginner's Guide to Pairing Wine with Food - Part Two|
by Wen Zientek-Sico
Learn more about mixing and matching wine in the second half of our article. We tackle all the confusing stuff in the half, including favorite holiday meats, spicy food, desserts, and much more.
Missed Part One? Make sure to read it first here.
Poultry also has its rules and exceptions. We will start with chicken, which is the most straight forward. The classic pairing of most chicken dishes and a rich Pinot Blanc or Chardonnay really cannot be beat. However, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Heavily spiced chicken dishes such as barbecues or curries should not be paired with delicate white wines. The wine will barely be tasted. While a fine Chardonnay nicely compliments many roast or grilled chicken dishes, I actually prefer a really fruity red like a fine Merlot or Zinfandel with roast chicken. The flavors are better balanced, particularly if the dish is fragrantly spiced.
This brings us to our next dilemma, which is the question of turkey. I have heard hundreds of different opinions on what type of wine should be consumed with turkey, and there are several reasons for this. Turkey has a greasy or oily taste to it that makes dry wines taste odd. In addition, turkey has both white and dark meat which have very different tastes. The best choice for turkey is a wine that is fruity but not sweet. I personally prefer to serve both a red and white with turkey so that my guests can choose their favorite wine. A nice Chenin Blanc or Riesling serves admirably for a white wine selection, and a nice Zinfandel or Beaujolais is an excellent choice for those that prefer red wine. A lot of other game falls into the same category as turkey, including rabbit, pheasant, and duck.
That other quintessential holiday fare, ham, brings its own share of problems to the table. The strong flavor, high salt content, and fatty taste make wine pairing somewhat difficult. A fresh ham can be paired with a very mild Beaujolais or rich Chardonnay. Heavily cured hams are better with a light Pinot Noir or Zinfandel whose fruity taste help to balance the salt and strong flavor of the ham.
Veal and pork are once again problematic. They fall into the range in between a robust beef roast and a delicate whitefish. Consequently, the best wines to serve with veal and pork also fall in the middle somewhere. Almost any white wine complements veal and pork, but I especially like a nice Chardonnay. Light red wines such as Beaujolais also work well, particularly with a veal or pork roast.
For those that do not eat meat, or if you are entertaining those that are vegetarians, the basic principles hold true. If you are serving a light tofu stir-fry that has a delicate flavor, serve a lovely white or light red wine. For hearty bean dishes serve a vigorous red wine that won't be lost in the strong flavor of the beans.
People obsess over what wine to serve with ethnic dishes. For many cuisines, the easiest way to pick a wine is to follow the basic rules for whatever meat is being served and pick a wine that is made in that country. It stands to reason that French cuisine blends beautifully with French vin. For areas that do not produce a large amount of wine, such as the Orient, there are two ways to go about it. The first is to opt not to serve a traditional wine. Choose a beverage native to the area that your food dish is coming from. Obviously, if they have eaten the style of food for hundreds of years they have worked out pretty good matches. If you are set on wine, choose a dry wine that matches the main ingredient, keeping in mind the style of preparation. Strive for a balance between the intensity of the wine versus the dish that you are serving.
Of course, what would a wine rule be without an exception? For very hot and spicy food, there are several considerations to make. First of all, whether it is a spicy curry, a hot Thai dish, or a Tex-Mex meal, wine really does not go well with hot and spicy food. Anyone who has taken a bite of really spicy food and followed it with wine knows this. Oftentimes following spicy food with wine actually increases the burning sensation and can be most unpleasant. Your best bet is to serve traditional beverages with spicy food, whether it is a yogurt drink, or a beer, they tend to complement the dish better than most wines. If you insist on serving wine, either change your menu or opt for light sparkling wines. The carbonation tends to alleviate the burning sensation that is common with most wines.
The issue of what to drink with dessert has been highly contested. Perhaps the best reason for this is the often served combination of brut champagne with wedding cake. It tastes awful because the tart acidic taste of the champagne is made more extreme by the sweetness of the wedding cake. Most dessert wines are very sweet, and while they will not contrast a sweet finish to a meal, they may tend to be almost cloying in their sweetness when paired with dessert. They are excellent served after dessert, by themselves, or with fruit and cheese. One of my favorite dessert wines, Muscatel Superior "Emilin" from the Emilio Lustau Vineyards, is a dessert wine that is so rich and decadent that it is a dessert in of itself. It is also admirable poured over a high quality ice cream or pound cake.
The last and most astonishing myth that I want to address is the rule of never serving wine with a salad. The obvious reason for this is that vinegar based dressings tend to make most wines taste absolutely wretched. There are two ways to avoid this problem. The first is to use a citrus juice or other dressing in place of the vinegar. The second is to choose a wine that can stand up to vinegar and retain its excellent taste. A tart and acidic Riesling makes for a good choice that balances most acidic salad dressings.
Basically the most important things to keep in mind when pairing wines with food is to choose what you like, and to keep a balance between the intensity of the wine and the strength of the food. If you do those two things you will never fail in having a pleasant pairing. I think it is also important to keep in mind that there is rarely an awful wine pairing. True, there may be better and worse pairings, but experimenting and tasting are all part of the fun.
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