24 Mar


Where to Begin  Print

“Wine makes a symphony of a good meal,” declared Fernande Garvin in The Art of French Cooking (1969). Andre Simon (1877-1970), the wine critic, expressed it in more graphic terms, observing “Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners.” However stated, the notion that wine and food go together is indisputable. Personally, I can hardly think about wine without considering food. But which with what?

Pairing Food & Wine

If you are relatively new to the wine experience or to wine and food pairing, how do you figure out which food will enhance your wine enjoyment? Or, for those more oriented to food, which wine will complement your food?

Wine and food pairing resources abound. Some are good; some not as helpful. Some simply say to forget the rules and follow your instincts. That can be good general advice, but not very enlightening if you have limited pairing experience. The basic rules “white wine with fish and red wine with meat” or “white with white and red with red” make some rough sense, but so many varieties of wine and food are now widely available that these simplistic rules aren’t adequate to guide you (especially if you aren’t planning to eat fish or meat with your wine).

I’m not a sommelier. I’m a wine imbiber. That means I have a fair amount of wine experience, but I don’t claim to know it all by any means. So, I’d like to suggest a ready reference that I believe has some useful advice but shouldn’t overwhelm you with extreme detail. And remember, guidelines are just a starting point. You need to experiment and find what you like best. The notion that there is one (or only a few) magical pairing(s) is simply untrue. Beauty is in the taste buds of the beholder! And keep in mind that pairing wine with food is the same as pairing vegetables with meat or meat with a sauce. Wine is just another food ingredient (although it can be a relatively expensive and intoxicating ingredient). So, don’t obsess over the pairing decision.

Wine Guide 2008

Wine Guide 2008One good resource I’ve used is Food & Wine’s Wine Guide 2008, which is mostly devoted to descriptions and ratings of over 1,500 wines from around the world (not comprehensive, but a decent cross-section). What caught my attention is the food pairing section that considers over 20 different grape varieties, from the well-known (such as cabernet, chardonnay & merlot) to several that might be less familiar (such as malbec, nebbiolo & roussanne). Each entry describes the grape, suggests the best pairings and cites some specific wines to try (but don’t let that limit you).

The guide covers the key basics in a succinct and straightforward manner, drawing distinctions when there are significant differences among wines made from the same grape variety that could affect the pairing experience. For example: “Lighter, unoaked Chardonnay and Chablis pair well with fish, shellfish and salads. Oakier versions (most California Chardonnays, for instance) are better with more substantial dishes like roast chicken, pork tenderloin, or richer fish or shellfish such as salmon or lobster.” Notably, the guide is compact (a slim paperback, small enough to fit into a purse or jacket pocket) so you can easily take it to the local wine shop, grocery store or restaurant. It is widely available at wine shops, grocery stores and online (Amazon seems to have good prices). It isn’t the only good guide on the market, but it’s a reasonable beginning for the budding wine imbiber.