Does Food and Wine Pairing Equal Hysteria or Nirvana?
When did choosing which wine to have with dinner become like Tinder, or university level chemistry? In the old days, you bought a wine to bring to a dinner and hoped it tasted good. With whatever you were having. Maybe you’d bother to ask ‘is it meat or chicken?’ Maybe not. You’d just show up with a medium-priced wine…not too cheap…not too expensive. No one would laugh at you, everybody would drink it and all would be fine.
But these days, it seems you need a degree in Food Wine Pairology to attend a dinner party. Red or white is not good enough. We need to know beforehand what the host is serving… beef, lamb, chicken, fish (kingklip or yellowtail) or vegetarian. If it’s chicken, what kind of sauce will be accompanying it: tomato-based, creamy or spicy. Because that will help determine if the wine should be a grassy basket of green apples, a buttery toffee sandwiched between two biscuits, a Carmen Miranda headdress of tropical fruit or something called herbaceous minerality (chemical compound or embarrassing medical condition?). Really? Isn’t this TMI for something as simple and organic as wine?
The thing is, there is truth to the science of food and wine pairing, and it does make a difference to how both the food and wine taste. In a nutshell, it’s the opposition of taste profiles between the food and wine that make for balance, and balance is the Holy Grail of food and wine pairing. It’s when what you’re eating and what you’re drinking come together in one harmonious orgasmic package: the sum is better than its parts. No wonder winemakers, who nurture and craft their wines in a process that takes years, want you to drink their wine with the right food. The problem with pairing is that with so much emphasis placed on it recently, it has become intimidating to the majority of wine drinkers, who are afraid they will make a mistake that will get them deleted from a Whatsapp group.
So rather than provide an infographic that looks like the London underground or the Ten Commandments of Pairing carved on stone tablets, here are a few easy guidelines that if you follow, should make your food and your wine taste better, together.
1. Dry sparkling wine is wonderful with anything salty — think snacks or smoked fish.
2. Choose Sauvignon Blanc to accompany tart dressings and sauces.
3. Chardonnay is great with fatty fish or fish in a fatty sauce.
4. Chenin Blanc is your go-to for sweet and sour foods – light Asian, chutney or cranberry sauce.
5. Dry rosé strikes the balance with super cheesy dishes.
6. Pinot Noir is the friend of rustic foods, like mushrooms and truffles.
7. Shiraz is a braai buddy…it loves sweet and tangy barbeque sauces. And spicy ethnic dishes too.
8. Cabernet Sauvignon is your red-blooded meaty companion…there is no better match for juicy steaks and chops.
9. The colour of the wine should match the colour of your dessert (i.e. late harvest whites or semi-sweet sparkling for custard and vanilla; sparkling rosé for fruit and port for chocolate).
10. Last but not least, don’t be afraid to break the rules…this whole drinking wine with food thing is supposed to be fun and you never know what you might discover!
Ilana Sharlin Stone is a freelance writer and the former executive chef and co-owner of Rustica Restaurant in Cape Town. She loves drinking wine and hates wine snobbery.