For me paring food and wine isn’t only a pleasure, it’s an exciting endeavor with innumerable outcomes. To plan a wonderful meal centered on a few great pairings is a good time indeed. I prepare for a weeknight or a dinner party the same way: I head to the farmer’s market and see where it takes me. Wine should be kept in mind the whole time while gathering your ingredients and assembling the meal in your imagination. Whether it be spring, winter or summer the produce will call out to you with notes of the season you wish to express in your meal.
Since we are coming into spring lets approach out pairing lightly with new crisp flavors and a shining wine. In this way you allow for the wine to bring its own sparkle to the meal, without overpowering the food, or conversely without sitting in the background. It is important when working with delicate flavors and products: let’s say first of the season halibut, watercress, avocados and basil. These 4 things will each bring a complimentary as well as a contrasting element to the dish and your wine should do so as well.
Your lovely sustainably caught wild halibut filet will be the center piece. The watercress will add crunch, freshness, a soft bitter bite and gorgeous color. The avocado will mirror the creamy texture of perfectly cooked fish and rival the basil in sweetness and aromas of spring. Drizzled with good olive oil what more could you ask for?
Ah, perhaps the perfect expression of clean, mineral wine with just a hint of sweetness as in a Sonoma sauvignon blanc, ready to stand up to any gorgeous halibut. Or take a trip further into contrast with a dry crisp Riesling and really see the avocado stand out.
Now there are many beautiful wines that could be paired with our spring-time recipe, it’s all preference and curiosity. I recommend trying something outside the box once you’ve gotten started. You never know when you will surprise yourself.
So you feel equipped to play, I’d like to outline some simple guidelines for pairings, that will be referred to in future articles.
Always keeping in mind the fragile balance between compliment and contrast let us look at: flavor, texture, weight, quality, regionality, complexity and sauces.
Flavor is straightforward. Pair flavors in the dish with flavors in the nose of the wine or tones you pick up while tasting. Try poaching in butter and pairing with Chardonnay, chefs have even infused lobster with vanilla to mimic the vanilla essence in a good Chardonnay.
Texture is very important and often over looked. It is not to be confused with weight. Texture can have to do with tannins or acidity. For instance pairing a smooth old-vine zinfandel with a succulent rack of lamb glazed with balsamic vinegar, with each component mimicking the others on the palate.
Weight is more accurately described as concentration of flavor. This is an important element of balance. You can have a beautifully contrasting pairing but if the wine is too heavy it may fail to bring out the more subtle flavors or aromas you wished to highlight. A classic example is foie-gras and sauternes, heavy decadent rich, perfectly paired. Similarly successful however, would be a light fruity Chenin Blanc with stir-fry and its fermented fruit notes like plum sauce or even spicy black bean paste.
Quality in regards to cooking and drinking should be the same. Don’t cook with something you wouldn’t drink and drink whatever you cooked with. There will be clear flavor parallels and the cohesiveness of the dish will astound!
Regionality may be the most important element, at least in my book. There’s an old Italian adage: “what grows together goes together.” When choosing your wine as a main ingredient to your meal, don’t forget where it came from and what the weather was like for those grapes. You wouldn’t drink a white wine from the Alto-Adige in the northern Italian Alps with a heavy Sicilian dish! Che cazzo!?
Complexity may be the hardest aspect to master as it takes knowledge to assess the complexity of a wine if it is based on more than just age. However, there is a simple rule to follow: the more complex a wine the simpler the dish must be. For instance a mysterious old Barolo need little more accompaniment that a plate of fresh wild boar pici, bold simple straight-forward flavors that will make this complex and layered wine shine! On the other hand a young tannic Chianti will be mellowed and refined by a complex, handcrafted pecorino or prosciutto- this is where pairing shines, when the food makes the wine more than it would’ve been otherwise. It completes it.
Sauces. As aforementioned use what you are drinking. The perfect compliment to a dish in the glass also makes the perfect sauce. A simple white wine, butter and herb sauce or a complex red wine, dried fruit sauce with your meal will highlight a beautiful wine in new and exciting ways.
So whether it be spring, summer, winter or fall you can pair whites with fish and poultry, reds with red meats and pork and anything in between. Don’t let old rules hold you down, follow these simple guidelines and you can’t fail.
Buon Apetito Amici!