In our first article on wine and food pairing concepts, we discussed the notion “if it grows together, it goes together.” This phrase is a concise summary of the concept of pairing wine and food based on terroir, regionality, and tradition. Beyond this concept, one of the most useful theories for wine and food pairing is the law of attraction: “like attracts like.”
The most tried-and-true (and, sadly, oversimplified AND mis-used) example of this rule is the notion that white wines pair with white meats and fish and red wines pair with red meats. Used wisely, this sentiment is very serviceable when selecting wine for dinner (or dinner for wine. . .). The rule works for a variety of reasons. Firstly, the regions that have historically produced great white wines have also had a great abundance of fish, seafood, and poultry, while the regions that have historically produced great red wines have had diets based largely on meat and game. In essence, this color matching system of pairing developed from “if it goes together it goes together.” Secondly, the notion of color-pairing wine works because it generally matches intensity levels. White wines, tending to be more delicate, often pair nicely with fish and white meats which are easily overwhelmed by hearty reds. Red wines, tending to be bolder and more tannic, often pair beautifully with the stronger flavors of red meats and game which overpower more delicate white wines. There are a few other reasons that the “white with white, red with red” rule works, but we’ll save those for later discussions. For the context of this article, this rule is about pairing based on matching intensity, from light and delicate to heavy and robust, but also including the range of intensity between the two extremes. Failure to consider intensity is where the “white with white, red with red” rule falls apart. . . The danger is in assuming that all white wines are light and delicate and that all red wines are heavy and robust. While a white wine will never be as heavy as a full-bodied, heavily oaked Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon and a red wine is unlikely to be as light as a Veneto pinot grigio, the range between the two extremes of intensity can easily be occupied by both red and white wines. White wines range in intensity from light wines like pinot grigio/gris, riesling, chenin blanc, and unoaked chardonnays (like Chablis) to fuller, heftier wines like viognier, marsanne, oaked “California-style” chardonnays, and Sauternes. Red wines range in intensity from lighter wines like pinot noir and gamay to wines of medium intensity like grenache, Valpolicella, and Rhône blends to more intense (but not necessarily “heavier”) wines like nebbiolo, syrah, and cabernet sauvignon. More intense white wines and less intense red wines occupy a middle ground that allows them to pair nicely with a range of foods, provided other flavor challenges are not present. Pinot noir, for example, is a great choice for salmon or tuna; meeting in the middle by matching a heftier fish and a lighter red. It is also worth noting that successful pairings based on intensity (and other factors) may be made by considering sauces, seasonings, or ingredients other than the main protein of the dish. Serving barbecue chicken? A juicy zinfandel might be just the right choice, even though it would most certainly overpower the same chicken were it lightly seasoned and baked. . .
Along the lines of “like attracts like,” you might consider matching not only intensity, but also flavors and aromas. For example, if you are serving lobster with drawn butter, an oaked, buttery California chardonnay is just the ticket (even if it isn’t your typical tipple). A bright, acidic sauvignon blanc such as Sancerre is a great choice to pair with most salads (given the acidity of most dressings) or with chévre (the last being not only a “grows together” match, but also an acidity match). Pinot noir is a great choice not only for salmon and tuna as noted above, but also for mushrooms (a match based on earthy flavors and aromas). The sanguine aromas of a great French-style syrah is a perfect match for lamb or game meats. If that happens to be a bottle of Australian shiraz (same grape, different style), the fruit notes might make a good match for barbecue.
We’ll continue to explore concepts for wine and food pairing over the next few weeks, but next week I have a little field trip planned for us. We’ll be taking a jouney to Beaujolais (just south of Burgundy) to get to know the quintessential Thanksgiving wine of the same name (mostly)! You might be surprised to find that Beaujolais is about more than just the fun, fruity (if often banana-Now&Later-scented) wine known as Beaujolais nouveau. We’ll explore several different quality levels within this region, including ten beautiful villages and the seldom-seen, but absolutely delightful Beaujolais blanc. If only one wine shows up at your Thanksgiving dinner, you probably want it to be Beaujolais. Tune in next week to find out why. . .