Wine Pairing Demystified

Food & Drink - October 5th, 2007

by Lauren Shannon

Wine and food pairing has changed a lot in the last 50 years. Old adages like “white only with fish, and red only with meats” have been left by the wayside. Nowadays, along with the wine’s taste, sophisticated wine drinkers enjoy learning more about the principles of chemical and structural balance when choosing the perfect wine to go with their foods.

Some basic wine rules: You are looking for balance, so sweet wine with sweet foods would be too sweet, acidic with sour tastes would be too sour, while heavy wine with light foods would tip the scale. So here are a few rules of thumb:
• Sweet or off-dry wines pair well with spicy foods and Asian fusion dishes. Think Riesling or Gewurztraminer with Thai foods.
• Dry wines are a better bet with creamy sauces or dressings.
• Balance also means heaviness or structure. Light foods with heavy wine is bad. So with a delicate fish or simple chicken breast, for instance, you don’t have to stick with white. You can also try a lighter red like a Pinot Noir, or the newly re-discovered darling of the wine world, Rosé.
• With heavier red meat dishes it’s best to stick with a heavier red wine or the food will overwhelm the wine.
• If the dish is creamy, a wine with a more acidic structure will offset and compliment the heavy butter sauces. And with foods that are more acidic, why not try an oaky chardonnay or structured viognier.

We had a chance to ask wine expert and teacher Sandra Shoji for a few recommendations for the fall season. Here is what she had to say:
• André Clouet Silver Brut Nature Champagne NV: (about ¥6,615) No dosage, this shows off the beauty and craft of the wine.

Food Match: The slightly yeasty, nutty, pure flavors here with minimal residual sugar works great with grilled matsutake mushrooms and ginkgo nuts.
• August Kesseler Spätburgunder (Rheingau, Germany): (US$59.00 [about ¥8,000], Pieroth Japan K.K., contact Kevin Whelehan). A rich, round, slightly minerally and sexy balance of acidity, fruitiness and a slight hint of oak.

Food Match: Shredded roast duck with toasted hazelnuts and walnuts in a basket of julienne sweet potatoes.
• Domaine le Martinelle, Côtes de Ventoux, 2004 (France): (¥2,520, The Vine Ltd, James Dunstan, importer). A really stunning, modern red wine from Grenache 68 percent, Syrah two percent, Cinsaut four percent and Carignan one percent. The wine is elegant with a velvety texture, with lots of red plum, anise and raspberry flavors against a background of very restrained oak.

Food Match: Venison steaks sautéed with port, Peking duck or chocolate mousse with fresh raspberries.