| Chapter One
A Road Map to Great Food and Wine Pairings
THE RULES THEY ARE A-CHANGING
The pairing of food and wine is a complex and highly inexact science.
It is fraught with outmoded rules and a propensity for generalizations.
Much of what has guided the understanding in the past emerges from
the traditions of regional dishes that are eaten with regional wines,
such as tomato-based pastas with Chianti (primarily Sangiovese)
or beef bourguignonne with French Burgundy (Pinot Noir).
This world has been turned absolutely upside down in the past
fifteen to twenty years due to the rapid globalization of both food
and wine. In the United States, in particular, we have absorbed
the traditions of other food cultures—European, Asian, and
Latin—and we have found ourselves in a quandary from a wine
standpoint. Our varied, new cuisine includes Asian ingredients,
such as cilantro, star anise, shiitake mushrooms, and pickled ginger,
intermingling with classic European, Latin, and native ingredients.
The old wine rules simply weren't created with this diverse, cross-cultural
culinary palette in mind. These changes have forced us to broaden
the way we look at pairing food and wine, to be more open and experimental.
There are a few basic tenets that I apply to the food and wine
pairing process: I first consider the body of the wine that I'm
going to serve. What is the texture or "mouthfeel" (weight
and feel in the mouth) of the wine and what types of foods will
most enhance it? While most wine tasting revolves around the aroma,bouquet,
and flavor of the wine, I can't emphasize enough how important "mouthfeel"
is to successful food pairings.
Secondly, I consider the flavor of the wine. I think about the
inherent fruit character that comes from the grape variety itself,
as well as the flavors that are developed from aging the wine in
oak barrels, if there's been any barrel aging. Zinfandel, for example,
has a vibrant berry character that often meshes with a hint of spice
from barrel aging. Chardonnay, in and of itself, contains apple,
pear, and citrus notes; it's the barrel fermentation, malolactic
fermentation (a process that converts harder acids to softer ones),
and the aging process that contributes additional flavors to the
wine, such as toast, vanilla, butter, and spice.
In addition to considering the body and flavor in both the food
and the wine, I try to be aware of the level of intensity of each.
Successful combinations come from creating relatively similar levels
of intensity in both the food and the wine. An example would be
a light, delicate white wine paired with fillet of sole with lemon-butter
sauce, or a robust, heavy red with osso buco.
Lastly, I assess the basic taste of the wine. There are four basic
tastes from which to choose: sweet, sour, bitter, and salty. (In
fact, research dating back to 1909 in Japan has asserted that there
is a fifth basic taste called umami, which refers to a savory taste,
but this has never been uniformly accepted.)
Pairings work best when the basic taste (sweet, sour, bitter,
salty) of both the food and the wine are relatively similar. This
means making sure that a sauce doesn't get sweeter than the wine
(see Mustard- and Sourdough-Coated Venison with Currant Sauce on
page 195) or that the acid in the wine is sufficient to match the
acidity found in a particular dish (see Mixed Greens with Thyme-Scented
Goat Cheese Cakes and Balsamic-Dijon Vinaigrette on page 40). Occasionally,
a contrast of basic tastes, such as a slightly sweet wine to offset
saltiness in a dish (see Baked Ham with Spicy Apricot-Orange Glaze
on page 91) will work quite effectively.
Sweetness, in the case of wine, is a reflection of its residual
sugar. Any wine above about 0.6 percent residual sugar has some
apparent sweetness, although most wines don't start tasting sweet
to many people until they reach about 1.5 percent residual sugar.
These wines are often referred to as "off-dry," and are
typically Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or Pinot Gris/Grigio. Sweet
versions (above 5 percent) of all of these varietals are also produced.
The problem is that residual sugar is not always indicated on the
front or back label, so it can make selection a little tricky. See
the Riesling section (page 68) for an explanation of how to select
German-style Rieslings based on their nomenclature.
Sauternes (made from Sémillon and Sauvignon Blanc), sherry,
and port are also produced as sweet wines. Some sweet dessert wines
can be found in smaller, 375-milliliter bottles since a small taste
of this liquid nectar goes a long way, particularly at the end of
a meal that has included several other wines.
The basic taste of sourness as it relates to wine is experienced
in the wine's natural acidity. Varietals that are particularly high
in acid (Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc, Pinot Gris/Grigio, Sangiovese,
and Pinot Noir) can balance more acidic dishes beautifully.
The basic taste of bitterness in wine is noticed primarily in
its tannin structure. Tannin is that searing, back-of-the-tongue
jolt that is experienced in many young red wines, such as Cabernet
Sauvignon and some Merlot, Zinfandel, and Syrah. This is one of
the many reasons that wines are aged in the bottle, both prior to
release and in the buyer's cellar. Over time, tannins evolve and
soften as red wines go through the bottle-aging process, adding
complexity and flavor interest to the wines and making them far
more pleasurable to drink.
Certain foods have tannins as well, most notably walnuts and pecans.
These ingredients can help lessen the apparent effect of tannin
in young Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, and Zinfandel.
Saltiness is not an element found in wine, therefore it can be
largely omitted from consideration. However, dishes that are slightly
salty due to their use of anchovies, olives, soy, or Thai fish sauce
can complement lighter, fruity wines, such as Gewürztraminer,
Riesling, dry rosé, and some Pinot Noir. On the other hand,
tannic red wines and oaky whites fare very poorly with salty dishes,
which create a noticeable increase in the wines' apparent tannin
and oak levels.
In evaluating these components of body, flavor, intensity, and
basic taste, we can choose to find either similar elements in the
food and wine pairing or contrasting ones. Successful combinations
come from both. A similar match of flavor, for example, would be
the Shrimp-Scallop Pâté with Cilantro, Dill, and Pine
Nuts (page 34) with Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc. Herbal flavors
in the dish match herbal flavors in the wine.
On the other hand, a pairing of Roast Pork with Holy Mole Sauce
(page 174) with a dry rosé (one of the possible marriages
with this dish) relies on a contrast of body and intensity between
the rich chocolate mole and the light, fruity wine that refreshes
and cleanses the palate.
If this all sounds a little daunting, or perhaps a bit too cerebral
for something as fun as drinking wine with delicious food, then
we can move on. However, an understanding of why some food and wine
pairings harmonize in crescendo while others clang in discordance
is very helpful, particularly as you begin to create your own pairings.
Maybe Tony Hendra said it best in an amusing Forbes FYI article:
"While you can assess certain aspects of a wine's merits in
isolation, its apotheosis is at the table.... Wine separated from
food is like a boxer who never goes into the ring; you can speculate
all you want watching him work out how good he might be, but you'll
never know for sure, till the bell sounds for Round One."
Ultimately, it's personal taste preference that rightfully dictates
successful food and wine combinations, not arcane rules.
THE UGLY STEPSISTERS (FOODS TO AVOID)
So many ingredients are wine friendly (see Bridge Ingredients included
in each wine section) that it seems only fair to point the proverbial
finger at a few that are not. These ingredients don't mean to be
this way, and, in fact, each of these foods is delicious on its
own. These "ugly stepsisters" are simply best avoided
when exploring successful pairings with wine.
OK, let's just say it: Asparagus is generally awful with wine.
Not impossible, just difficult. It contains phosphorus and mercaptan,
two components that twist the flavors in most wines in the wrong
direction. If you must drink wine with asparagus, try Pinot Gris/Grigio
or Sauvignon/ Fumé Blanc as they have enough acidity to deal
with this less-than-perfect wine food.
The enfant terrible of food and wine pairing, artichokes contain
an acid called cynarin, which makes everything taste sweet after
eating it. Think of your first sip of milk after eating artichokes.
It tasted like someone poured sugar into it. With wine, artichokes
simply notch up the apparent sweetness of the wine, and that's not
such a good thing most of the time.
The heat in chiles comes from a substance called capsaicin, which
actually can be measured in what are called "Scovil units,"
named after the man who invented the process.
While small amounts of milder chiles, such as jalapeños,
Anaheims, and poblanos, are not particularly problematic for wine
matching, hotter chiles will wreak havoc with oaky white wines and
tannic reds. Oaky wines will taste more oaky. High-alcohol wines
will taste hotter, even burning. Tannic wines will seem more bitter.
Overall, chiles numb the palate's ability to appreciate the subtleties
of wine, particularly older reds. It's a pity, but it's true.
That does not rule out the possibilities, however, for successful
wine pairings with chile-infused food. With spicier dishes, the
best bets are fruity whites, such as Riesling, Pinot Gris/Grigio,
Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc, and Gewürztraminer, and soft,
fruity reds, such as Zinfandel, Pinot Noir, Rhône blends,
and dry roses. I hate to admit it, but white Zinfandel works well,
As much as I personally adore hot food, you'll find these types
of recipes noticeably absent in this book, save for a few personal
favorites, such as the Roast Pork with Holy Mole Sauce (page 174)
and Clove-Infused Pork-Black Bean Stew with Tomatillo-Roasted Red
Pepper Salsa (page 161), which marry well with a Syrah blend and
Eggs are notoriously difficult to match with wine because the
yolks coat the palate and make it more difficult to taste wine.
When eggs are used as part of quiches or hollandaise sauces, they
are less intrusive. All in all, Champagne, Sauvignon/Fumé
Blanc, Pinot Gris/ Grigio, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, and fruitier
styles of Chardonnay stand the best chance of working with eggs,
but don't bet your entire meal on it.
Vinegar and Pickled Foods
Most vinegar is an enemy to wine, but there are exceptions: Balsamic
vinegar, with its sweet, nutty character, can actually contribute
complexity to sauces, but it must be used judiciously to avoid overpowering
the wine. Other vinegars can rob wine of its fruit, making the wine
seem astringent and unpleasant.
There are several salads in this book, which may come as a surprise
due to popular thinking about not matching wines with salads. When
matching salad dressings to wine, it's best to keep the ratio of
oil to vinegar at least three parts to one. In general, white-wine
vinegar works best with white wines and red-wine and balsamic vinegar
with reds, but balsamic vinegar can adapt to white wine when used
Most pickled foods—save for capers, which I find to be an
interesting complement when used sparingly with Sauvignon/Fumé
Blanc and Pinot Gris/Grigio—present difficulty in pairing
with wine, as well. The same can be said for pickled ginger, an
ingredient so delicious that I go out of my way to find ways for
it to work with aromatic, fruitier wines (Asian-Style Grilled Salmon
with Fennel-Pickled Ginger Relish on page 78).
Bridge ingredients are those which help connect the food and the
wine through their interaction either in flavor, body, intensity,
or basic taste (sweet, sour, salty, bitter). In each chapter, bridge
ingredients are recommended to help make these connections come
to life. Different varietals have different "friendly"
ingredients; they can be very helpful in achieving harmony between
food and wine.
It's amazing how slight adjustments of certain bridge ingredients
(e.g., Dijon mustard added to a red-wine sauce or fresh herbs added
at the last minute to a salsa or relish) can help accentuate the
flavors of the dish and encourage greater affinity with the wine
that is selected.
COOKING METHODS AS A FACTOR IN PAIRING FOOD AND WINE
While food and wine pairing is most often discussed in terms of how flavors, body, and basic tastes harmonize, there remains one more element to explore—the cooking method used. While not always obvious, the technique used in cooking a dish will often affect how well (or poorly) it will partner with wine at the table. The following methods of cooking are the ones that seem to heighten food and wine pairings, although it can be argued that deep-frying, poaching, and steaming all have their places, too.
Besides being my preferred cooking method, grilling offers a great opportunity to partner seafood, poultry, meats, and vegetables with wine. The main reason is that grilling is done quickly with the meat or vegetable in direct contact with its heat source. A tantalizing smoky flavor results, depending on what type of fuel is used (charcoal, mesquite, oak chips, or gas grills with flavorizing bars). This occurs because the juices drip down on the fuel source and cause smoke to be released back up to the meat or vegetable.
This caramelization of sugars and protein through grilling is similar to the process of toasting the inside of oak barrels that are used for aging wines. Most red wines are aged in either French- or American-oak barrels from six months to as long as two years. During this time, the wine picks up subtleties of aroma and flavor from the barrel that are often described as "smoky" or "toasty." Some white wines, Chardonnay in particular, are also aged in oak barrels and display aromas and flavors that result from the process. Chardonnay, barrel-aged Sauvignon/Fumé Blanc, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon all benefit from being paired with grilled dishes, making the connection seem more vivid and dramatic.
Roasting is a dry-cooking method that browns the exterior of the meat while sealing the juices inside (assuming it's not overcooked). When roasting is done properly, it can have a very positive effect on wine pairing. The juiciness inside the meat, which is primarily protein and fat, helps coat the palate and soften the impression of both full-bodied red and white wines.
The browning of the outside skin also has a positive effect on wine pairing since this caramelizing process, whether it is accomplished by slow or fast roasting, helps connect the flavor of the meat to the barrel-aged characteristics of the wine.
Roasting meats, poultry, and certain seafood, such as salmon or sea bass, allows for the use of fresh or dried herbs, which can also help marry the meat to the wine. The flavor of the herbs is infused into the meat, adding depth that is the hallmark of simpler roasted fare.
Vegetables greatly benefit from roasting, which seals their moisture inside and dramatically intensifies their flavor. This has positive implications for wine pairing as it adds another element to a recipe that can support a pairing with a specific wine.
One of my favorite roasted ingredients is garlic. The caramelized, nutty character that develops when garlic is roasted (see page 164) seems to be a particularly friendly bridge ingredient to most wines. Because it is not nearly as sharp as raw garlic, I use roasted garlic in many relishes and sauce reductions as a helpful conduit to both red and white wines.
Sautéing meat, fish, or vegetables in a pan with fat (either butter or oil) also creates intriguing food and wine pairing possibilities. Because fat is being used in direct contact with the meat or fish, it adds a flavor and textural element that can help with some wines in particular.
Chardonnay, with its oily texture, is one very good example of a wine that can be helped by the sautéing process because it adds some fat (and "mouthfeel") to the dish. Cabernet Sauviguon and Syrah, with their higher tannin levels, will also often benefit from being paired with sautéed dishes containing some fat to help cut through the tannins. However, even delicate seafood (e.g., Zack's Pan-Seared "Spykick" Catfish on page 50) will benefit from quick sautéing that seals flavors and adds just a touch of fat to the fish.
The other benefit of sautéing is that it allows other ingredients and flavors to come in direct contact with the meat or fish during the cooking process. This allows flavors to become better integrated, which adds immeasurably to the success of the dish and to the wine with which it's being paired.
Braising is a cooking method that begins with the sealing of juices through a quick browning of the meat followed by the addition of a liquid, typically wine and/or stock. Once liquid is added, the dish simmers slowly under a covered top with all of the ingredients in one pot.
The obvious benefit of this type of cooking is the integration of flavors, which happens slowly but very surely. Specific flavors and ingredients are not the goal of braising, rather a merging and commingling of flavors and textures that views the whole as greater than the sum of the parts. Braising also allows wine to be used extensively in preparation of the dish, thereby suggesting a direct connection to a specific varietal.
Richer, more full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay and Viognier, as well as more full-bodied reds such as Zinfandel, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot harmonize beautifully with braised dishes. The fullness and weight of the wine are seemingly mirrored by the braising method (e.g., Braised Pork with Apples, Mushrooms, and Calvados, page 120, with a buttery Chardonnay). This makes good sense to the palate; it accepts both food and wine readily and with pleasure.
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