Distilling the Magic of Wine and Food Pairing

Credit: Markus Spiske / Unsplash @markusspiske
Contributor: Ron Fenolio

The traditional way to consider pairing wine with food was the trite “white wine with fish, red wine with meat.” But consider, does an oyster (briny, mineral, seawater) sound the same as salmon (rich, fatty, unctuous)? These two flavors are not even close. So why think the same wine would work for both of them?

A much better way to think of pairing food and wine is “savory with savory” (as in roast lamb which is gamey with syrah which is peppery), or grilled ribeye steak with cabernet sauvignon. Chicken can in fact go, either way, red or white, and probably the best pairing is a dry riesling. So the pairings are acidic with acidic, soft with soft, bold or strong with bold or strong, sweet with sweet, fruity with fruity (a muscat/Moscato with that variety’s peach overtones is both the perfect white wine in which to marinate peaches for a couple of hours before spooning them over gelato, but also to drink paired with this refreshing dessert). Tomatoes are very acidic so require acidic red such as Sangiovese/Chianti.

What are the hardest items to pair? Red chili peppers with a bold red wine (the spiciness or capsicum fights with the tannins in bold red wines, chili dishes require a sweet wine to moderate the heat); artichokes and asparagus (which have flavor compounds which make them hard to pair—they require a vegetal acidic wine such as a cold climate sauvignon blanc from Mendocino, Monterey or New Zealand, or an Albarino from along the English Channel, or a very very dry Gruner Veltliner from Austria).

Back to the salmon. I think the perfect pairing for salmon is a “soft” red—pinot noir, merlot, grenache, Beaujolais (Gamay).

My favorite recipe? Salmon with Raspberry Wine Sauce, of course!

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