Have you ever tried Coca-Cola with a steak? Or coffee? How about a margarita?
Each of these beverages can be seen accompanying steaks around town on a nightly basis. I know that everyone has different taste buds, but the thought of something sweet and effervescent mingling with a medium-rare New York Strip? Yikes!
When it comes to pairing wines with food, there are many so-called “classic matches” that work beautifully. But there are an equal
amount of others that to my palate don’t work well at all. Being someone who rarely drinks wine unless accompanied by food, I frequently experiment, looking for flavors and textures that blend well. The texture of a wine (crisp and acidic or rich and full-bodied) says a lot about which dishes it will pair well with.
Below are some pairings that always work well, and some that just don’t. I’ve also included some different ideas that have been successful for me in the past.
Classic Wine/Food Pairings that Work
Crisp white wine with raw shellfish.
- Icy cold Kumamoto or Barren Point oysters, freshly shucked and seasoned with a touch of hot sauce and horseradish, are elevated to knockout status when put together with one of the following: 1) Muscadet from the western Loire Valley in France; 2) New Zealand sauvignon blanc; 3) Albarino from the northwest of Spain or 4) An unoaked Premier Cru Chablis (my favorite).
Red Bordeaux with Lamb. A dream match. Both Bordeaux and lamb work well with other partners, but never as well as when they are side-by-side. I particularly like Right Bank wines (St.-Emilion or Pomerol) with my medium-rare rack of lamb, sprinkled with rosemary (hold the mint sauce). Reasonable substitutes for Bordeaux might be a Ribera del Duero from Spain, or a malbec from Argentina.
Barbera d’Alba with Tomato and/or Meat-Based Pasta Dishes. When tasted by itself, barbera from Piedmonte in Northern Italy, will never win any awards. Sharp fruit, high acids, biting finish. Take this same wine and hook it up with Penne Bolognese (other choices might be Linguine or Fettuccine in an Arrabiata or Marinara sauce), and it turns into the Wine of the Gods.
Classic Wine/Food Pairings That Don’t Work So Well
Big, Rich Red Wine with Cheese.
- As the years go by, I’ve come to think that red wine and cheese are not necessarily the best of friends. Sometimes full-bodied reds, such as cabernet sauvignon or syrah, can overpower a cheese, unless the cheese has hair growing on it. Next time, you might try a white with your cheese course. Loire Valley whites mesh well. Try Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume with goat cheese, which is actually a classic pairing in France, but rarely seen here at home. Another, albeit less known, pairing is demi-sec chenin blanc like a Vouvray or Coteaux du Layon with salty blue cheese, such as Roquefort or Fourmes d’Ambert. Sublime counterpoint.
Champagne and Caviar. Dry, yeasty Champagnes, like Bollinger or Pol Roger, always seem to fight against the salt. I always recommend Rose Champagne with caviar. The strawberry/watermelon tang in a really good rose (like Billecart-Salmon or the l’Hermitage from Roederer in California) brings out the best in both sides of the equation.
Foie Gras and Sauternes. Sorry, I still don’t get this one. Sauternes is just too rich and sweet a wine to put with any savory food. Once you taste fois gras with a great gewürztraminer such as Cuvee Theo from Weinbach or the Londer gewurz from Anderson Valley in California, you’ve hit the fois gras pinnacle.
White Wine with Fish. White wine is OK with fish, especially lighter white fishes like flounder. But what about when tuna, salmon, grouper or halibut come into play? What works better for me is a lighter pinot noir (no 2003’s from Oregon please), or even a Cru Beaujolais, like a good Moulin-a-Vent or Chiroubles. These reds retain the sharp acids needed to break down the oils found in a fish like salmon.
I’m a fan of red Zinfandel, so let me offer two new ideas for pairing America’s indigenous wine:
Zinfandel with Traditional German Dishes
- . Pork absolutely sings with Zinfandel. Marry a juicy, full-blown zin like St. Francis Old Vines or Renwood Grandpere with bratwurst, schnitzel, sauerkraut and spatzle and you’ll hear an aria.
Zinfandel with Asian Stir-Fry.
- I make a somewhat unorthodox stir-fry. I thrown in commonly-accepted ingredients such as bean sprouts, snow peas, sesame oil, soy sauce, tofu and Asian spices, but deviate by using Italian vermicelli as my noodle of choice. The key wacky addition is a spicy Indian curry paste called Patak’s Madras, which includes cumin, coriander, tamarind and ginger. No other wine I’ve ever tried blends like a zin with this fiery dish.