David Lynch, a James Beard Award-winning sommelier and author of Vino Italiano: The Regional Wines of Italy is surprisingly cynical about wines for a wine expert. Lynch describes the typical scenario: “You’re in a restaurant that takes wine very seriously, one where a thick, leather-bound, 25-page book arrives with great fanfare–and a thud–at the table.” However, he realizes, the everyday person “[Doesn’t] come to your restaurant to read a book.” The truth is, all we need is a nice wine to go with our meal, not an enormous, daunting wine list handed to us by a pressed waiter with a pair of condescending eyes. And, lucky for us, if we know the secrets of wine pairing we can have that nice wine, and great meal, in the comfort of our own home. All you have to do is learn the basic rules for wine pairing and you can turn a Friday night into a romantic and festive evening. Just hand the kids off to your sister or aunt, set the table, and read up on these meal planning ideas for a wonderful night of food and wine.
Basic Rules of Wine Pairing
- Identify the properties and characteristics of the dish and go from there. Look at your grocery list ideas and then start thinking about what wine would best accompany those foods. For example, if you prepare a steak, couple it with a full wine. Both steaks and full wines are hearty and strong.
- When in doubt, match regional cuisine with their regional wines or with wines from grapes of a similar soil and climatic condition. A tomato sauce pasta dish, for example, tastes delectable alongside a Tuscan Chianti, however French chablis (the grapes of which grow in a climate that retains their tangy edge) will serve this dish just as nicely.
- Keep in mind that palates can be cleansed with either tannins or acids after a rich meal, like a steak or fried chicken dish. Tannins can come from the skins of the grapes used in winemaking or the wood barrels a wine may have been aged in. Tannin tastes similar to the flavor you would get if you sucked on a tea bag and causes a puckering of the gums. It’s this astringent flavor that helps strip the fats from your tongue and cleanses the palate after a fatty meal.
- Match acids with acids. Acidic wines and cream don’t mix, unlike acidic wines with shrimp and lemon pasta. Anything sauteed in a lemon-butter such as salmon and shrimp cakes sauce tastes great with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
Last but not least, drink what you want and what makes you feel good! Your preferences should always take precedence over others’ recommendations, even if they’re coming from the mouth of a wine connoisseur.