Last month Jim of JVB Uncorked won the Monthly Wine Writing Challenge #20 (#MWWC20) and just
like all previous winners of the Challenge, his “reward” was to choose the theme for the next Challenge. (#MWWC21) He decided on “Pairing.” I always try to look at each month’s challenge and see how I can approach it from any other angle other than the obvious. But I must admit, this month I only saw one way to go, so Food and Wine Pairing it is, but with a bit of a twist.
I live in Jersey. I am two hours [depending on Parkway traffic] from Atlantic City and only a 5 hour flight to Vegas. Many a vacation is centered around finding a Caesar’s property. Are you getting where I’m going here, do you see the twist? I’m a gambler. The exhilaration of hitting 21, throwing a hard ways, or seeing trips is something I crave. Yep, I’m a gambler. Walking up to a table and checking out the chip count before I lay my money down is a “science.” Well, maybe not an exact science, but I do run some sort of algorithmic analysis before I place my money on the table. I don’t just show up and jump in. As in many things in life there are rules to gambling; don’t enter until the shoe is ready to be shuffled [blackjack]. Don’t throw your money down until the point is made [craps]. Ask the person if they would like to move to the seat to their right before you sit down [three card poker]. These are basic rules, simple rules; but not everyone follows them.
Just as in gambling there are rules to wine pairing, however “Rules are made to be broken!” That is one of my favorite statements. I never was a big trouble maker. I was the person who knew where the line was drawn, and was an expert at stepping on the line, but not crossing it. Figuring out how far I can push that line was where I spent most of my time and I was good at it. It’s a talent, not one that you highlight on your resume, but it’s definitely an art.
As much as a gambler I am, and how much I love pushing the envelope, I have to admit that when it comes to wine pairing, I am a bit of a bore. I’m not really sure why. It may be that as much of an adventurer I am in life, when it comes to food I am not. I could never participate in Survivor or any show like that, because there is no way, no how, I would eat ninety percent of the food those people eat. I am boring in that respect. I like what I like and I stick to it. A protein bar and a glass of milk make me happy in the morning. PB&J and I am in heaven. Pop a lean pocket in the microwave and I am set. I’m not adventurous when it comes to food. I don’t like beef, there is no way I’m eating anything game, and the more elaborate the meal, the more likely I am to not eat it.
When it comes to wine paring, though, I must admit, I am not too much of an adventurer, I typically stick to the basics – but once in a while I throw caution to the wind and see how far over the line I can go. I like pushing the limits, but I never expect anyone who is with me to join in my escapades [unless they are willing] so below are my basic tips for pairing along with some recipes to go along with them.
Choose Similar Flavors
Like goes with like. Cooking an Italian meal, an Italian varietal probably pairs well.Click To Tweet It is simple. Similar food and wine flavors will complement each other. A Fume Blanc that is notorious for citrus characteristics will pair well with a meal that has citrus flavors like a lemon sole dish. Big bold meats need big bold wines. If you are going to throw a slab of Porter House on the plate, you better not choose a Beaujolais Nouveau. The sure bet is something like a Caymus Special Selection Cabernet Sauvignon. If you are choosing a meal that has earthiness/gamey characteristics, like duck tacquitos you would lay the odds on a Pinot similar to a MacPhail Toulouse Vineyard.
Weight and Texture Matters
If you are cooking a meal that has a heavy bodied sauce, you are most likely going to want a heavier body wine. You are not pairing an Alfredo Sauce with that Ferrari Carano Fume Blanc. The food will overpower the crispness and lightness of the wine. However, a lobster in herb butter sauce [not something I’d eat] and a Rombauer Chardonnay that has gone through 100% ML would be a solid bet.
When it comes to dessert, play the odds by paying attention to the sweetness of the food.Click To Tweet A good bet is to make sure the wine has the same or more sugar than the meal. A wonderful decadent chocolate soufflé will melt in your mouth with a Taylor Late Bottled Vintage Port or an apple pie with a Trefethen late harvest Riesling. If you want a Winner Winner Spicy Chicken dinner, a Riesling or a Gewurztraminer is the card you want to want to pull.
Salt and Crisp and You Can’t Miss
The saltiness of some dishes are divine, but you need to tame it with the crispness of the wine. Click To TweetOne of my all-time favorite is paring is Souvlaki with Halloumi and a Kim Crawford Sauvignon Blanc. The wine cuts right through the saltiness of the cheese.
When All Else Fails; Pair by Color
If you are a true gambler, forget what the books say and lay your entire bankroll on one hand, spin or throw, you can bet on color. You can walk up to that roulette table and throw the last of your money down on red. There a lot of chances you win, but actually more chances to lose thanks to the 0 and 00. Nature is amazing. It provides you with a natural cheat sheet for good bets. The fruits and veggies themselves can be like a person’s tell in a poker game and tip you off to which wines to serve. Lighter veggies go with lighter colored wines. Sauvignon Blanc is a pale yellow wine and it pairs with lemon which is also yellow. [in case you didn’t know that] Tomatoes are red and pair better with red wines such as Sangiovese. I’m not sure this is the best way, but it is a way.
Yeah, It’s a Gamble, But That’s What Makes it Fun
When it comes to wine pairing [and gambling] the more information you have the more chance you have at being successful. But there is always that risk. Who knows if the person to your right at the blackjack table is going to hit when they were suppose to stay, or the person throwing the dice hits the chips on the other side of the craps table. But that is what makes it gambling. You may have followed all the general rules of wine pairing, but there always is the element of surprise, that maybe it just doesn’t work out or maybe it is the pairing of the century! That’s the adrenaline rush that makes you want to try it. Isn’t that part of why you choose a wine. The anticipation of that first sip, and then recognizing how the wine and/or food morphs as the flavors come together.Click To Tweet That is what it is all about. If every wine you opened was guaranteed to be the perfect match, would it be as thrilling? If you knew what the pairing would result in, would you enjoy it as much? I say, throw the caution to the wind and every so often go off the reservation with your wine decision and take a gamble on that pairing. When all else fails follow these three simple rules: