By Elspeth Brown
Every Friday night at the shop we conduct a free wine tasting. Some Fridays, we knock it out of the park. Everyone loves the wines, bottles fly out of the store and everyone comes in the next week asking for more. On other Friday nights not a single wine shows well. In the next couple of weeks following the tasting, I will serve the wines by the glass. People order it with a cheese plate or a sandwich and it’s like magic. The despised wine from the tasting is now a huge hit when enjoyed with food. The wine takes on a new life. The flavors that come out in the wine when you are eating food can be substantially different than when it is imbibed on its own. Kevin Zraly, an American wine educator, once said, “Wine is the seasoning that livens up even everyday dishes.” Wine makes eating and enjoying food much more pleasurable. But the real conundrum is what wine to pair with what food.
You should always drink what you like. If you end up pairing a wine that you detest with your dinner, then you are just going to ruin a perfectly good dinner and waste a bottle.
The easiest trick to keep in mind when pairing wine and food is the fuller the flavor of the food, the fuller the body of the wine. A lighter dish is safe with a lighter, softer wine. Enjoy a riesling wine with lighter seafood like shrimp and it will enhance the sweetness of the shrimp. Chardonnay pairs well with chicken, salmon and even steak. Pinot noir also pairs well with chicken and salmon, and is delicious with pork. The juicy fruit in a pinot noir cuts the fattiness in the pork. Cabernet sauvignon always pairs perfectly with steak and pork.
It can be a little more difficult when pairing wine with an assorted cheese platter or an antipasto platter that has multiple cheeses, meats and flavors. The safest choice when choosing a wine that will encompass all the flavors on the platter would be a pinot gris for a white, and a malbec or merlot for a red. Both wines are medium body, not too sweet, not too dry and will suit a variety of cheeses and meats well.
But why does a cabernet sauvignon pair perfectly with a juicy ribeye steak? Beef has very strong flavors and a cabernet sauvignon will encompass flavors of ripe fruit, smoke and oak that won’t be overwhelmed by the meat. When you pair wine with food, you never want to overpower any of the food, or have the food overshadow your wine.
There are also significant benefits associated with drinking wine with food. If you happen to eat contaminated food, drinking alcohol with it decreases the risk of getting food poisoning. It also aids in digestion. Red wine can help the stomach remove potentially harmful substances found in red meat and processed foods.
Julia Child once said, “Wine is meant to be with food— that’s the point of it.” I agree, Julia! We should enjoy all of it, to the last bite and the last drop.