Food and wine go together like, well, food and wine. Many of us can remember a perfect pairing where the food and wine matched in a way that both managed to make the other taste amazing. We can also probably remember a time where a really off pairing made either the food or the wine (or both) taste totally funky. But how important is pairing wine with food? Is it more art or science? And honestly, is it really necessary?
There are, of course, there are many schools of thought here. I tend to fall in the middle: pairing wine with food when possible is nice. It helps present a great food experience. But ultimately it's just one piece of a good meal. I can't tell you how many times I had what I considered the best bottle of wine or food pairing, only to buy the wine or try to create the pairing at a later date to be disappointed. Why? Because the meal or bottle I enjoyed so much was with friends or family and an entire experience. It was a night full of laughter, good company, intellectual conversation (or not), and the food and wine never tasted so good. Or the music was good. Or the weather. Or the space. Or any number of things that made me enjoy myself. The realty is if the wine is decent, the food is decent, and the overall experience is good, I don't overanalyze. I don't continually swish and smell my wine, I don't try to even out my bites of food with sips of wine, I don't expound upon the notes of cocoa or bramble. I enjoy my here and now with whomever I'm with, and chances are, unless the wine pairing is completely off, I enjoy both the wine and food.
Still, a bad pairing—whether for a "special meal" or pizza night—can dim the meal. Trying to pair wine when possible will increase your overall experience, so why not try? Plus, I must admit, it can be really fun—and it's a wonderful way to increase your wine knowledge. Unfortunately the simple "whites with fish and poultry and reds with red meat" doesn't always work in this fusionistic world of cuisine we now live in. There are many pairing "rules" you can read about—in fact, so many that spreadsheets and flow charts might be necessary—but my husband and I have narrowed it down to three simple ones. We call them our 3 Rules for Food and Wine Pairing. Clever, right?
1. Start with what you like.
Don't drink a wine you don't enjoy just because it's "supposed" to be good with a certain dish. Instead, start with what you enjoy.
Comparison: Have you ever grudgingly invited people over that you don't care for because everyone else says they're fun? Sometimes it's best just to stick with the friends you know will make you smile and laugh all night.
2. Consider the weight and preparation of the food.
Heavy foods pair with full-bodied, bolder wines while light foods pair with light-bodied wines; a poached chicken salad, for example, doesn't carry the same weight as a jerk chicken. Consider the wine as a condiment of sorts for the dish, thinking about the sauce or seasoning. If you would add lemon as a condiment, how about a wine with notes of citrus? If you would add BBQ sauce, how about a smokey, jammy red?
Comparison: Sumo wrestler in a tutu? A flute and tuba duet? Yeah, it doesn't work for us either...
3. Aim for balance.
Wine shouldn't overpower food, nor should food overpower wine. Balance can be achieved by matching flavors (an earthy Pinot Noir with mushrooms? A citrus-filled Sauvignon Blanc with fish?) or by pairing opposites (spicy foods often pair wonderfully with sweet or fruity wines).
Comparison: Our friends Dan and Leslie are very similar. They love each other. My husband Paul and I are very different. We love each other, too. Love is good... and so is wine.
Do you have a favorite pairing? Our favorite at the moment is Sancerre and goat cheese. If you haven't tried it, I can't recommend it enough!