On Wine

Wine and food pairings

2013-02-28T17:19:00Z 2013-02-28T17:20:23Z Wine and food pairingsDan Berger Napa Valley Register
February 28, 2013 5:19 pm  • 

“Red wine with meat” and “white wine with fish” were two food/wine pairing rules that were long ago debunked.

But we are still being bombarded with the same old idiocy. I saw an article recently, admittedly in a “general consumer” publication that is certainly no authority on wine, that said this was still a valid idea. (A few of the comments about food were absurd as well)

What irks me most is that so much of this stuff seems to be made up and has nothing to do with common sense, such as the notion in an article I read a decade ago in which the writer said that all Alsace white wines were dry, so the dish it would be served with also had to be sugar-free.

Long ago, most Alsace whites were dry. But has this writer been aware of the trend over the 20 years for most Alsace whites to get a lot sweeter than they had been historically?

There are few generalities in this field that make any sense, but one basic fact of pairing wine with foods is: match up the weights and structures of the two.

Take, for instance, the classic Americanized dish we call Chicken Cacciatore, with its tomato influences and use of herbs and cheese. This is a chicken dish, so how about white wine, such as Viognier to go with it? Ugh.

This dish probably is better with Chianti, Barbera, or a light Zinfandel. Contrastingly, chicken breasts pounded and served scaloppini style with lemon and capers would work best with a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.

And when prepared a la Forrestiere, with mushrooms and a deep red wine and a bacon reduction sauce, the chicken would be best with a rich Cabernet Sauvignon.

Bad advice comes from many quarters. One horrid offering came from a wine snob I overheard in a wine shop about 15 years ago. Showing off his “expertise,” such as it was, to a friend, he suggested a very tannic Cabernet for a dinner party.

I knew the wine and suspected it would be so tannic that 20 years in a cellar might not tame it. But the neophyte wine drinker seemed thrilled as he walked to the checkout counter with the wine.

Bad advice can also come from snooty waiters trying to pad the check. This has happened to me so often it’s now a game: how expensive can you honestly suggest a wine to me? And can you do it with a straight face?

So red wine with meat? Sure, but it’s best to be specific. A mature Cabernet with a steak is a great pairing. But for rare prime rib, I’d go with a light Pinot Noir or Burgundy. I have even had some Chardonnays with lighter beef dishes and they were fine.

And then there was the elderly, retired physician and wine collector who always had a slightly sweet Riesling with his Veal Forrestiere. I asked him if a dark red wine might not be a better choice.

He replied simply that the first time he ever tasted this particular dish was in France, and the waiter recommended a sweeter Riesling and he never lost his taste for this particular combination of flavors.

Wine of the Week: 2010 Francis Ford Coppola Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast, “Votre Sante” ($14) – Focusing on a cooler region of Sonoma County, this delicate and still well-flavored Chardonnay has a citrus (lime/grapefruit) aroma, and an attractive crisp entry that works nicely with food. And its complexity comes more from fruit than any artificial use of oak. A tasty white wine that would work with a wide array of seafood dishes, and is often discounted.

Dan Berger lives in Sonoma County, where he publishes “Vintage Experiences,” a weekly wine newsletter. Write to him at winenut@gmail.com.

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