There’s a bit of perfectionist in all of us. So it’s only natural that wine and food lovers strive to find transcendent partnerships between the two.
As with all things related to wine, it’s complicated, but there are some clear and easy paths. Misperceptions abound: In truth, white wine is actually a better match than red for all but a few cheeses. Misunderstanding also can be an impediment: We often should be thinking about a sauce or spice more than the protein or vegetable.
For example, many folks regard pinot noir and salmon as an optimum marriage, and it can be. But the wide variation of preparations — tamarind glaze, lemon-pepper sauce, cedar plank-grilled, ad infinitum — calls for varying styles of pinot and occasionally another varietal entirely.
On the other hand, buttery chardonnay from California or Burgundy with sweet corn is an absolutely foolproof combination. But other types of chardonnay, say from Chablis, are nice enough but not-so-suitable choices. And we’re a long way from corn season.
Here are four perfect pairings of food and wine types:
Tomatoes and sangiovese
Oddly enough, many people cite this as a “grows together, goes together” combo without realizing that (a) tomatoes aren’t a major player in the cuisine of Tuscany and (b) this fruit actually came to Italy from these shores.
But oh, what a heavenly tandem these two make, in countless iterations: pizza, pasta with a variety of tomato sauces, gazpacho, BLTs, bruschetta. Something about the natural acidity in both food and beverage just makes them flat-out sing together, a culinary aria.
Wine options (all should be $20 or under): Fontaleoni Chianti Colli Senesi, Coltibuono Chianti Classico, Grati Chianti, Selvapiana Chianti Rufina, Volpaia Chianti Classico.
Oysters and Chablis
When I visited Chablis and walked through the hillside vineyards, the soil was imbued with oyster shells from the time in which that area was under the ocean. So is it any wonder that this alliance is beyond splendid?
It’s really as simple as that, but Chablis’ gems show green apple and citrus notes that enhance the partnership. These distinctive chardonnays, truly unlike any other iterations of the world’s most popular white grape, tend to have just as much minerality as the bivalves.
For those who don’t want to spend more than $25 — or even those who do — sitting at the bar at an oyster mecca such as Meritage, Octo Fishbar or 4 Bells is a convivial way to experience the sublimity of this duo together.
Wine options (around or under $25): William Fevre Champs Royaux, Francine et Olivier Savary, Joseph Drouhin Vaudon and Vincent Dampt Petit Chablis.
Lamb and syrah
When friends from warmer climes ask why I live here — just before I extol the many and varied virtues of Minnesota — my initial response is “Actually, we feel sorry for you because you have such a short syrah season.”
In the midst of our unusually lengthy syrah season, another staple can and should be roasted or braised lamb (or grilled lamb for us intrepid sorts who venture out to the patio). Syrah is among the most savory of wines, and its meaty yet smooth flavors connect viscerally and emotionally with the richness of lamb.
Wine options ($20 and under): The syrahs from northern Rhône are generally quite spendy (and quite worth it for those with the means). Better to start with a less expensive syrah or shiraz from California (Cycles Gladiator), Washington (Dusted Valley “Boomtown”), Australia (D’arenberg “The Footbolt”) or South Africa (Landskroon).
Fried food and bubbles
You name the food — calamari, shrimp, chicken, potatoes, falafel — or the wine — Champagne, Cremant, cava, prosecco — and there’s no doubt that a more perfect union cannot be found.
Whereas tomato dishes with sangiovese is a like-and-like amalgam, this one is like-and-unlike. The crisp vibrancy of the wine cuts through the fat in fried foodstuffs, cleansing the palate and the soul. It creates exactly the result we want in these medleys: mouthwatering refreshment.
Wine options ($20 and under): There’s no need to shell out the big bucks for the ballyhooed brands. Grab some Gruet from New Mexico, Korbel or Barefoot from California, Adami Prosecco from Italy, Segura Viudas Cava from Spain or Henry Varnay Blanc de Blancs from France.
To check out just how swell these pairings are, try a trick I learned a few years ago: “Sip, bite, sip.”
Bill Ward writes at decant-this.com. Follow him on Twitter: @billward4.