Arguably, wine was created to go with food. According to Pasteur, it is the healthiest of drinks.
While there are reams written about how to choose and serve wine, the key thing to remember is that wine doesn’t have to be expensive or rare to be good. The real secret to finding and serving good wines is to keep an open mind; and to remember that wine is really a matter of personal taste. If you take this approach, you may find that you enjoy a chilled Procecco as much as an expensive Champagne.
Plus, you really don’t need to worry about all those rituals of examining the cork, swirling the wine, inhaling the bouquet and finally checking the color. Really the best way for most of us to gauge wine is to sample with and without food. For instance, many delightful Italian wines are intended to be served with food and seem to be transformed when consumed while enjoying a fine meal.
Of course for an important occasion, you may want to review the bible of the industry, The Wine Spectator. But, if you are looking to develop your own point of view on wine, I’d like to share a simple approach that has worked well for me.
When I am going to serve wine, I try and think about the flavors in the food I am preparing. Are they delicate or bold? Are we planning on a light meal or one that is a complicated affair, or are we just going to kick back after a long day.
I then decide if I want to contrast the main flavor of the dish through a contrasting wine or do I want to heighten the main flavor component by serving a complementary wine. Here are some examples of this idea.
By combining an acidic, refreshing light wine with an oily fish you create contrast. The wine differs from the food, but still combines well with the predominate characteristic or flavor of the dish.
An example of complementary pairing is a sweet dessert wine and a rich almond torte. In this example, the sweetness of both the wine and
torte combine to intensify their principal characteristic, sweetness.
Here are some ideas that will get your started:
For a light meal, like a chicken salad or one that has a very delicate flavor like cooked crab, I prefer to have a wine that stands in the background and allows the flavor of the fish or the texture of the salad to come through. So I wouldn’t choose a big red wine or an overly dry or spicy wine. I would choose a softer, light wine, like an Italian Rose or a light white wine with low acidity that compliments subtle flavor notes. Further, to ensure that the wine left a soft signature of flavor, the alcohol level should be 11% no more than 12%.
For a brunch or a meal where you may have only one course. You should serve a beverage specifically geared to the key flavors of that meal. For example: For a brunch featuring Eggs Benedict serve a nicely chilled Champagne (the sourness will compliment the Hollandaise sauce, but the texture will contrast the heaviness of the sauce) By the way, Champagne or a light sparkling wine usually makes a nice starter to a meal.
For many poultry dishes: Roasted chicken, turkey, game hen, quail, there is a broad range of wines that will suit nicely. The key here is to balance the attendant flavors of the dish. A buttery Chardonnay or a well rounded Pinot Noir are wines that hold up to gravy and sage. A Polly Fusé or Sauvignon Blanc can team well with a with a quail cooked with raisins or fruit. A roasted chicken or game hen can come alive with a slightly acidic Pinot Grigio. and there are many others that will work here.
The key is the flavor profile: buttery-lemony-herbaceous-fruity. You get the idea.
For red meats, like roasts, steak etc. the sky is the limit. Depending on how you plan to serve the meal, you run the gamut from an inexpensive blend to a fancy French Bordeaux to a huge Italian Primitivo or a lovely California Cabernet. Just remember to let the wine and your guests breath before pouring. While, a good red wine is a thing of beauty, some of the California reds can be overpowering due to their high alcohol content. (over 13.5% in some cases) I believe these wines do not enhance most dishes as the wine tends to dominate the palate. In essence, the wine shouldn’t overpower the food, nor should the food overpower the wine.
For a nice kick-back kind of wine, I prefer an easy wine like a Sancerre, light Italian rose, a light sparkler like Procecco or a light Pinot Noir. All have a lot of personality and will stand up to a light snack or cheese, but they aren’t overpowering. I think a heavier wines, especially a “big” Petite Syrah, Merlot or Zinfandel are best consumed at dinner.
After dinner wines like port and sherry are a wonderful way to conclude A hearty meal or to fortify a guest against the bone chilling damp of late November.In England and Ireland, sherry is often served at tea along with lovely pastries and small crust-less sandwiches. The nutty sweetness typical of a nice Spanish sherry provides an elegant finishing note and somehow helps in the telling of pertinent “news”.While California produces a number of lovely, lush ports, both the climate and skill of the Portuguese vintners is simply unrivaled. About 3 or 4 times a year. The Instituto do Vinho do Porto of Portugal conducts port tastings in the US. Needless to say, these affairs are fabulous and well worth attending. The shows are typically given in New York or San Francisco often in conjunction with a local charity.
To learn more about wine and pairing wine and food, you might want to
look for books on the subject or join a wine tasting club. Try contacting your local wine store to find one in your area. Or, start your own!