I am in the air right now flying back from Walla Walla in Washington. I was hired by Click Wine group (amazing people) to do a wine and food pairing presentation to a few hundred wine bloggers from all of the country. First and foremost “cheers!” to all of you amazing wine bloggers that I met. You are passionate, fun, people who are helping the world enjoy wine like never before. Thank you! What a trip! I got off the plane and we went straight to the most incredible fromagerie called Monteilllet. Joan, the owner is the greatest combination of farmer, entertainer and mentor. Within moments of meeting her she makes you feel like you are best friends. Her farm is out in the middle of a sea of green and brown. There are wheat fields as far as the eye can see. After petting the goats and meandering through the farm we had the most incredible cheese tasting. Fresh cheeses that were less than 48 hours old as well
as grape ash (imported from France where her husband is from) cheeses, feta style cheese, and marinated cheeses (pink peppercorn). We had a huge lunch under the newly constructed outdoor kitchen/dining room. We then headed into the next town called Waitsburg. A one street “wild west” looking town that is over 100 years old. There is a hardware store that looks like it has been there since the beginning. The centerpiece is a bar that you would think would be in a big city based on the complexity and brilliance of its owner and bartender Jim German. I had a killer cocktail of Rye Whiskey, Cappellano chinato (a red grape based bitter with a hint of dark chocolate), and Cynar. Sounds funky but totally tasty and perfectly balanced. The day ended at Saffron restaurant where we had an incredible meal. From lamb tartar that was sweet, mild and fresh to an incredible harissa flatbread. The dessert was strawberry flat bread with an Aleppo red chile ice cream. The flatbread was crispy yet chewy, the strawberries were sweet and then the best part was the red chile ice cream.
I would normally raise an eyebrow to such a combination but it was brilliant. The ice cream was not too sweet and filled your mouth with cool cream. As the ice cream melted you were left with the mild heat of the red chile. Truly well balanced and brilliant. Chef Bear (and his awesome house-grown micro greens)at the hotel where I did the presentation was brilliant. He created ten scrumptious dishes to pair with ten different wines. My favorite was the duck empanada with mole sauce paired with a Malbec. The huge blueberry cream and blackberry fruit of the wine dissolved into the mole sauce to marry with the fruit and chile. Fantastic!!
If you are up for a quick lesson on how to pair food and wine check out my presentation below. I hope this finds you well.
Pairing wine and food
That is what I said the first time I experienced the true “ah ha” of what a perfect wine and food match can do. It was 1990 in a little French restaurant in San Francisco. The kind I always spent my entire nights tips on as a waiter in my endless search for culinary pleasure. It was foie gras and sauterne – not unique, but truly symbolic of what it means to match food and wine. A little table, sip of this newly discovered dessert wine made honey sweet but with perfect acidity due to this magical mold called botrytis. The wine lacquered my tongue with a blanket of honey, and then came a bite of the seared custard like foie gras, cut through the crispy golden top, mild gamey/meaty flavor dissolved into a bone marrow like richness with that unmistakable savory custard-like texture. Another sip of wine and wow!!!! I have caramel and butterscotch in my mouth! Where did that come from? Foie gras politically correct? Sorry, the story is the story.
Tertiary – the biggest word I know and don’t ask me to spell it! If I were smart I wouldn’t be in the restaurant business! It is what happens when everything comes together with the right food and wine match and a third; new flavor is created that is better than the food and wine on their own.
Leaving bliss aside for a moment often times the goal is to just not mess up the food or the wine with a bad match right?
I am here in front of you not as an “expert” but as someone who has spent their life as a cook, a restaurateur and all around wine geek enjoying food, wine and the combination of the two. That is what it is all about. You know what tastes good and what doesn’t, right? That should be your guide. Add that to what we are going to cover today and you are equipped to take your enjoyment to the next level.
My goal today is to start by:
1st setting us up by what it means to pair wine and food
2nd talk about some basic “rules” or guidelines that will help you increase the odds of pleasing your palate! We will also talk about the top three “safe bet” wines that are all around heroes. And three “must try” wine/food matches.
Lastly, most importantly, see what questions you have.
Ok, before we get started let’s clarify what Tools are needed: nose, tongue, and love for filling your mouth with brilliant flavor combinations! You must first please the tongue/the gatekeeper with the necessary balance of acid/sweet/salty/alcohol /fat and spice before the nose (the place we really “taste” everything can enjoy the true depth of the wine and food match.
The fist step is to change the way you approach your plate and glass. Approach your food and wine the same way you approach your relationships (the good ones J) Stop and “listen” to your food and wine. Really pay attention to what is in front of you and give the first couple bites/sips your full attention. When you do this you start to notice things. Have you ever finished a meal and not even realized what you ate or drank? Sometimes that makes sense but to get the most enjoyment you want to really pay attention to your food and wine. Lock the tastes and smells into your “flavor database” so that you will be able to recall them in the future. Lose yourself in the dish and the glass for a moment (just make sure to re-surface before your friends think you have issues (it’s already too late for me).
Thanks to Josh Wesson’s book (“Red wine with fish”) most of us have moved far beyond the “red wine with meat and white wine with fish” rule. You probably know that the cooking technique, the sauce, the weather and even your mood are all more important that the protein.
Remember the most important thing about food and wine matches is to trust your mouth. See what is going on inside your mouth as you eat and drink. If it is pleasant you have found a good match. If either the food or the wine taste worse together than they did on their own you know you have discovered a pair that doesn’t work.
I always suggest first taking a sip of the wine and then following it with a bite of food and then one more sip. Repeat until you find the perfect match or are so happy that it doesn’t matter.
In addition to that remember that personal taste is king. Nobody can tell you what to like or dislike (even though there are some waiters out there who would disagree).
I. Pizza and milk anyone?
Who would drink milk with pizza? Of course not. How about an ice-cold coke? That seems obvious because we have all had this combination a million times. There are two lessons here.
Repetition is key. The more you try a certain type of food with a certain type of beverage the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t. To do your homework is to eat and drink as often as possible.Think about why pizza and coke work. Pizza – rich from the cheese. Acidic in from the tomato sauce and a touch of spice. Coke – Slightly bitter/tannic, which offsets the richness of the cheese. Also acidic which balances the acid in the sauce bringing the tomato and topping flavors forward. The underlying raisinated fruit/sweetness in the coke tames any spice in the sauce.
Ketchup and French Fries – Think of wine as an additional “condiment” you are adding to the meal. Ketchup is not so lovely on its own but it is great with fries due to the balance that is created. The sweet of the ketchup balances the salt of the fries. The acidity of the ketchup cleanses the fat of the fries = harmony.
Try to apply those same simple criteria to your food and wine matches. What elements does each contain? Will they play nicely together?
II. The general “rules”
First choose to match or contrast the elements in the food and in the wine.
Contrasting can be riskier due to imbalances.
When “matching,” remember that whatever the food has you want the wine to have a little more of that. I.e. sweet dessert then you want a wine that is at LEAST as sweet or sweeter.
We must first master the non-sexy elements of pairing (acid, fat, sweet, salt, alcohol, tannin and spice) before you can enjoy the sexy, deep elements of wine (earthiness, layers of fruit, flowers, leather, tobacco, tar, the list goes on!). If you get the base elements right you are 85% of the way there!
In the food In the wine The result
Acid Acid Acid softens and fruit comes forward
Acid is the “safety net” the “equalizer” in
Food/wine parings. Yogurt brings almost
any match together.
Fat Acid Like lemon on fish the fat is cleansed and
the flavors of the food and the wine come come forward
Rich protein Tannin Tannin is softened in wine and fruit
(animal fat) comes forward. Think milk in coffee.
Tannin cuts the protein/fat in steak the same way lemon cuts fish oil.
Sweet Sweet Sweetness is tamed and flavors of food
and wine are accentuated. Sweet food
spanks the fruit right out of a dry wine.
Salty High alcohol exaggerates the alcohol in the wine. Drink
lower alcohol white wines – champagne
or off dry white wine.
Spicy tannin tannin accelerated. No good. Sweet or
Fruity white :Gwertz/Riesling is safe.
Or red with acidity, barbera with spicy meatballs!! Riskier but amazing when it works.
Nuts tannin tannin is accelerated. No good.
Hazelnut crusted, butter basted fish with a fat Chard!
Cheese – a category in itself. Remember sweet or off dry is safe with almost all cheese. Riesling, Sauterne (amazing with strong cheese), Chenin Blanc.
Creamy Will wipe out tannin in red and leave
wine flat. Drink a sweet white or a white
with firm acidity – sauvignon blanc.
Salty Sweet wine will offset salt. Tannic red
will battle saltines of cheese.
Acidic (goat) Battles tannin in reds. Drink with sweet
Aged Red wine. Age softens acidity in cheese
and brings out nuttiness in cheese which
Accentuates the fruit in the red wine.
Stinky cheese will kill red.
Some of the “tricky” ingredients that can be a challenge with wine. Artichoke, Asparagus, Cilantro. Remember, like everything in life it is about balance. If the ingredient is an element in the dish but not the main ingredient you can find a great match. Think funky with funky – Gruner Veltliner with artichoke is great. Off dry Riesling with Asian cilantro pad Thai. Arneis (crisp white from Italy) or an herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc.
The top three food friendly wines – your “wine to the rescue” when you are not sure.
Remember, these are the basics that will set you up for success. Just like discovering your own great restaurants off the beaten path on a vacation you will need to eat, drink and experiment with wine and food matches to find your own “off the beaten path” wine and food match.
Enjoy the journey!!
Eat well, Enjoy life, Be happy