An Expert’s Pairing Advice

The fact is there are very few extraordinary combinations when it comes to wine and food, just as there are very few combinations that are truly terrible. I find that in the vast majority of pairings, the wine and the food don’t affect each other much; they coexist peacefully, if unexcitingly. In a modest percentage of matches, the wine and the food accentuate the flavors in one another, and both taste better as a result; however, an equal percentage, I’d say, are the reverse.

On the whole, extremes of flavor in food tend to narrow the range of what wine pairings might work well—or at all. A dark, oily fish like Spanish mackerel is hard to match. When focusing on the wine first, I find that the best rules of thumb have more to do with weight and structure than flavor; for instance, a medium-bodied, moderately oaked Chardonnay will work with a broader range of foods than a superoaky, buttery, rich, 16 percent alcohol Chardonnay would. To that end, here are some tips:

Don’t match strong to delicate. Pairing a big, powerful, high-alcohol or high-tannin wine with a light, delicate dish (and vice versa) is rarely a good idea.

Acidity is your friend. People tend to be wary of wines described as “high acid,” like Sauvignon Blanc or Muscadet. Who wants to drink acid, after all? But there’s no better quality in a wine for matching rich, creamy or cheesy sauces, deep-fried foods or fish dishes; in addition, tart wines go better with tart foods, such as a vinaigrette on a salad.

Tannins pair well with fat. That’s because the astringency of the tannins cuts through the viscosity of the fat.

Follow the don’t-upstage-the-star rule. If you have an amazing bottle of wine you want to show off, especially an older vintage (they tend to be more subtle, their flavors less flamboyant), don’t serve a wildly complex dish with it. A simple dish will allow the wine to be the center of attention.

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