Food and Wine Inextricably Linked, Inexcusably Complicated

It’s not, actually.

We just made it that way.

And by “we” I mean wine writers in general. Not necessarily you and I. I certainly hope I haven’t. In fact, what I’m here to do today is lend my voice to the chorus screaming out for simplicity. I like adding to cacophonies. Few things are more rewarding.

People used to believe you essentially matched the color of your wine to the color of your protein, red with beef and pork, white with poultry and seafood. Many people still believe this. But that’s a bit too simple. There’s so much on a plate, you need to match everything, right?

That’s where wine and food pairing gets ridiculously complicated. Especially around Thanksgiving, people freak out about matching wine to everything on the table (even the jelly moose nose… err… canned cranberry sauce). It’s patently ridiculous to even try. Lots of my friends and family ask advice for food pairing, so I thought I’d share two rules of thumb that pretty much guide me, and seem to work all the time.

1. Like With Like

What does this mean? It means rich with rich, light with light, big with big, simple with simple. Don’t go pairing top-flight Bordeaux with frozen pizza, and likewise, don’t pair that awesome home-made lasagna you’ve slaved over with Sutter Home White Zinfandel.

Rich with rich. Big bold red wines go well with big bold flavors in food, like grilled steaks, heavy pasta dishes, etc. But, so can big over-the-top Napa Chardonnays.

Light with light. Chilled Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling can be an awesome accompaniment to a light shellfish pasta dish tossed in a bit of oil and garlic, but so can a scrumptious Pinot Noir. It’s all about the wine itself, and not about the color of the wine.

2. When In Doubt, Pair The Preparation

Grilled steaks can be a pretty easy/obvious answer: a big Cabernet Sauvignon or Barolo is something I’d want with a steak any day. And when seafood is grilled or prepared lightly, that decision is easy.

But what about pairing wine with chicken parmesan? Or with mussels in a rich, decadent cream sauce? When in doubt, don’t think about the protein, pair the preparation. The richer the preparation, the bigger the wine that will go with it. And even if you have a “traditionally” red wine-paired protein, like, say, pork, doesn’t mean that a velvety Merlot is the best choice for your pork tenderloin in shallot-cider sauce. You might find that a Pinot Blanc or Riesling would be more to your liking in that case.

Did I just complicate things? These two rules have worked well for me. What works well for you? Let me know in the comments, or on Twitter or Facebook. I’d love to know what your own rules for pairing food and wine are.

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