Don’t be ruled by rules! In the past there were rigid rules, best summed up by colour matching: white wine with white meat or fish, and red wines with red meat. The colour guide still works, but there is so much more
Guideline #1: Fuss the right amount. Don’t fuss too much – most food and wine works together just fine. But harmonious matches are easy, and pleasure and delight is enhanced enormously. So why not fuss a bit?
Guideline #2: Do your best to balance the weight of the dish to the wine. It’s simple: if the food or the wine out-weighs (or out-intensifies) the other, something will be lost. Great pairings are when you can taste both the food and the wine equally. This means that you have to think a bit about the personality, flavours and heft of the food that you plan to serve, and the wine that will accompany it.
Guideline #3: Contrast or complement is the pairing goal. This is how you create excitement – either combine similar flavours, or hurl them together in clashing opposition. Both approaches can work. But remember – weight and intensity are never contrasted – only complemented. Sometimes the best pairings manage to contrast and complement at the same time. Port and Stilton cheese are a good example of complementing (both are rich and weighty) and contrasting (the sweetness of port, and the salty cheese).
Guideline #4: Beware of red wines with tannins and fish – this is one of the few food and wine interactions that can be truly miserable. Tannins (felt as a mouth drying effect and best experienced by chewing a banana peel or sipping very, very strong black tea) and fish oils make everything taste metallic and unpleasant. Most fish is best with a white wine, and if your choice is red, ensure it has very mild tannins, like some pinot noirs or gamay wines. Tannins are mainly in the skins of grapes, and red wines, which are usually fermented with the skins, contain tannins. White wines seldom have tannins, unless lots of new oak is involved.
Guideline #5: Acid and saltiness are your secret weapons. Acid is one of wine’s most important structural elements, adding refreshment, balancing fruit, and preserving over time. A touch of salt is enormously flattering to wine, softening tannins and enhancing fruit character. This does not mean over-salting, but simply paying attention to perfect seasoning.
Guideline #6: Sweet foods need sweet wines. Desserts are best flattered by wines with obvious sugar, as in Icewine and Key Lime Pie, or Tawny Port and Sticky Toffee Pudding. Just try having a cookie and a sip of dry wine, like Sauvignon Blanc or Cabernet, and you’ll understand immediately. You can match sweet wines to savoury food very successfully, as in Sauternes and foie gras, but never the other way around.
Guideline #7: If it grows together, it goes together. The regional rule always works, so it can be your default. The classical matches of geography are red Bordeaux and lamb, red Burgundy (Pinot Noir) with the stew Boeuf Bourgogne, Chablis with oysters. In British Columbia, we have a magnificent bounty of wines and local specialties like wild salmon, pig, lamb, and grass-fed beef, along with earthy delights from asparagus to zucchini. With more than 80 grapes planted in B.C.’s vineyards, and wine made by 275+ wineries, it’s easy (and highly rewarding) to explore the natural fit of our local ingredients and wines.
Let’s use the SPUD Holiday dinner menu to illustrate food and wine pairing fundamentals.
Wine choice: Haywire Switchback Pinot Gris 2014
The rich and satisfying appetizer of warm, melty cheese with zingy thyme and savoury mushrooms begs to be matched by an earthy and herbal white wine that will complement, but provide enough backbone of refreshment. Haywire’s Switchback Pinot Gris 2014 is organically farmed and wild-fermented in concrete eggs, brings a hint of peach fruit, sagebrush and complexity to this easy but irresistible starter.
The point of brining is moisture. Submerging your pastured bird into a salty, herbal bath overnight will boost its juicy succulence, while deeply infuse an extra dimension of flavour. Be sure to use a bottle of local white wine in the brining liquid.
For wine pairing, turkey presents an easy, savoury, somewhat neutral backdrop for several great matches. Reds and whites are both excellent options, and turkey demands wines with medium to full body. It’s the SIDE dishes that often need your attention when it comes to wine choices, as they can have more demanding flavours. The trickiest item to match in this menu are the Brussels sprouts, with their tangy, balsamic reduction – strong flavours with bitterness and acidity featuring prominently. Our red wine will need a good load of fruit, some tannin depth, and of course, all-important balancing acidity for the richness of the leek and potato gratin and decadent hazelnut cherry stuffing. And, of course, the rich and savoury gravy that you will make from the pan drippings.
Here are the two whites:
Corcelettes Gewurztraminer 2015 from the Similkameen Valley has the weight, broad fruit profile and hint of richness that always pleases the palate, and fantastic acidity that refreshes every bite. https://newdistrict.ca/corcelettes/2015-gewurztraminer-1
Coolshanagh Chardonnay 2014 is a refined and sensitively oaked chardonnay from the elite Naramata Bench that combines intense flavour, succulent acidity and the kind of long finish that uplifts food. https://newdistrict.ca/coolshanagh/2013-chardonnay
And the two reds:
Daydreamer Amelia Syrah 2015 is a Naramata red that delivers potent dark fruit, smoky herb subtlety and the Okanagan’s trademark bright acidity. The generous 2015 vintage gives extra fruit depth. https://newdistrict.ca/daydreamer/2015-amelia
Cabernet Sauvignon brings full body and robust tannins to the dinner table, and Orofino’s Passion Pit 2013 is a structured beauty, with black currant fruit flavours, supple tannins, and an emphatic finish. https://newdistrict.ca/orofino/2013-passion-pit-cabernet-sauvignon
Wine choice: Paradise Ranch Merlot Late Harvest 2015
Triple chocolate trifle stars in the dessert course – and this reliable make-ahead classic gets a modern twist of chocolate. Remember Guideline #6! Sweet wine is essential for desserts like this decadent trifle. Paradise Ranch has made this late-picked Merlot (the grapes hang on the vine for an extended time, building up high sugars and layers of plummy flavour). It’s intense, fruit-drenched and mouthcoating with the right weight and sweetness for this festive trifle.
Dessert wine: Paradise Ranch Merlot Late Harvest 2015
Written by DJ Kearney
DJ Kearney is the Director of Wine at newdistrict.ca, an innovative online marketplace for wine. With the singular goal of simplifying the enjoyment of wine for British Columbians, she oversees wine selections and purchasing, and curates mixed packs of wine and knowledge at newdistrict.ca. In almost two decades in the wine business, DJ has trained thousands of sommelier students throughout North America, judged and presented around the world, and tasted thousands of wines in pursuit of quality and value. She is also a classically trained chef, an ardent locavore, avid online shopper, and sports fanatic.