“‘Once you know how to do it, you don’t think about it anymore…yet learning it drove you nuts!'” (Greg Tresner of Mary Elaine’s at the Phoenician, comparing food and wine pairing to learning how to run a computer program).
I recently bought the book,What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page. It has won numerous awards, including The IACP Cookbook Award (the International Association of Culinary Professionals). This book educates readers not only on what makes a good food and drink pairing, but also why the pairing works (or not). I have already devoured the book, taking notes, plastering it with sticky notes, and learning more about why food and drinks can go so well (or not so well) together. I say “drinks” because while the book primarily focuses on wine, they also recommend beer, liquor, soda, coffee, and tea pairings as well.
No one wine is a perfect match for a recipe, just like no one recipe will be the perfect match for a food. There are endless amounts of pairings that can be made, and sometimes, I feel overwhelmed with making a decision. How do I know if such and such will pair well? What if such and such is a disaster? What I like about this book is that it takes away some of the deer-in-the-headlights of it all, and narrows how to make a good pairing into three easy rules:
- Think Regionally: If it Grows Together, it Goes Together
- Come to Your Senses: Let Your Five Senses Guide Your Choices
- Balance Flavors: Tickle Your Tongue in More Ways Than One
Rule number one dives into world regions, such as Tuscany, Loire, Alsace, etc… Chances are that if a recipe comes from one particular region/culture, their wine would pair well with it too. This is due to the fact that the terrain from the region greatly affects its food and wine, and in general pairs well together.
Rule number two goes more into your senses, primarily your sense of sight/touch. When a wine is full bodied, it generally goes with fuller bodied meals. You would not pair a heavy red (such as a California Cabernet Sauvignon) with a light tilapia, just like you would not serve a rabbit stew with a light white wine or a Pinot Noir. The bodies/volumes/heaviness of a wine and a food must go together, or one will cancel the other out.
Rule number three talks about the flavors of food and comparing/contrasting them with the flavors of wine. It is a rule that was the most complex to understand, but the one I believe most people unconsciously resort to when pairing. Balancing flavors means to think about the flavor components of a dish and either comparing them with a wine, or trying to contrast them with a wine. Comparing a food and wine’s flavor is much easier than trying to contrast them. An example of comparing wine is like pairing bitter foods (such as walnuts or grilled dishes) with bitter, or more tannic wines (such as a Californian Cabernet Sauvignon or a Shiraz/Syrah). Contrasting a food and wine’s flavor would be like pairing the same bitter food with a full-flavored and fruity wine (such as Gamay or Moscato) (page 39). While the comparing aspect will (usually) result in a successful pairing, contrasting a food and wine’s flavor could end up heavenly or just the opposite. You have seen some of my poor contrasting flavor choices in previous posts (oh, the horror of my first egg post!), but have also seen some successful ones, such as Tomato Pie Night! The safest bet is to compare, but contrasting pairings are the most unique.
By following these three easy to remember rules, you are (almost) sure to create a masterpiece, or at least something that goes well together.
After diving further in to each rule, hundreds of pages are dedicated to pairing. An entire chapter lists what drinks go well with a specific food, specifying if it is a recommended pairing, a highly recommended pairing, or a “HOLY GRAIL” pairing (and yes, using the bolds and bolded caps for those pairings). For example, “Pumpkin (in general): Chardonnay, buttery California; cocktails made with Bourbon, Cognac, or rum; Gamay; Gewürztraminer, esp. off=dry; ginger ale, Riesling, esp. off-dry; Shiraz; Valpolicella; Viognier; white wine, off-dry” (page 156). Based on this recommendation, the bolded wine tells me that it will make a highly recommended pairing, while the others are just recommended. There were no Holy Grails in this pairing.
After a chapter of what drinks goes well with a specific food, the book flip flops, and talks about what to eat with a specific wine. Again, with the same rating, types of drinks are listed along with what foods to eat (or in some cases, avoid!). An example, “Aligoté (French Light-Bodied White Wine from Burgundy: clams; oysters; seafood; shellfish, esp. served chilled; shrimp” (page 205). No highly recommended pairings in this one, but all options are good ones.
The book ends with several dinner pairing menus from famous restaurants and chefs around the United States. Unfortunately, very few, if any recipes are provided, but no matter! I now have a go-to-guide to help. I highly recommend this book if you are in the need for some easy to follow tips to create an epicurean masterpiece!
Book: What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea – Even Water – Based on Expert Advice from America’s Best Sommeliers (Amazon.com $24.18)