Developing Instinctive Wine-Pairing Skills in These Novel Times

Cooking at home has become popular during our months-old sheltering-in-place lifestyle. And so has consuming wine, often at table while enjoying the latest inspired meal we’ve self-created or re-created from the many media sources available to us.   

Enjoying this new (for some) culinary experience has created a conundrum at times. What wine to pair with a particular dish? Or, on a broader plane, how to develop an intuitive sense of matching the aromas and flavors of a particular dish with those of a particular style of wine?

Pairing wine and food is a favorite experience for me. Finding a complementary match creates a culinary experience that is invariably greater than the sum of its parts. A food dish on its own may be an exhilarating experience, tantalizing our taste buds with a unique combination of flavors – and aromas. It may start with a simple summer salad of vegetables purchased on the spur of the moment from the local farmers market – spicy baby Asian greens, baby yellow and red beets, dressed with freshly made orange citrus vinaigrette and topped with morsels of organic goat cheese.

As delicious and refreshing as it is on its own, the salad is beautifully enhanced with a glass of Grüner Veltliner, the crisp white Austrian wine with full acidity and a touch of pepper and minerality.

When consumed together, the crispness of the lettuce and dressing become more pronounced with a sip of the Grüner. The wine’s distinct flavors explode in one’s mouth. The peppery taste of the salad is much more discernable when complemented by the peppery taste of the wine. It is as if a new dish has been created, one that is at once bold and sensual, simple and exotic.

With practice, this form of pairing is not difficult to achieve. And, if one is preparing a meal for someone with similar tastes and dietary preferences (or restrictions), a mutual sensory pleasure is inevitable.

But clearly, we don’t all have compatible dietary preferences or tolerances. Twenty years ago, carnivores dominated the culinary planet. Hefty steaks and juicy burgers were de rigueur. Today, there is a growing proliferation of omnivores, herbivores and locavores. Each may have a specific diet to match with wine: high protein, low calorie and low fat are just a few, not to mention those ubiquitous fad diets.

At the other end of the spectrum are the allergy diets: gluten-, lactose- and nut-free. And don’t forget the “earth-friendly” diets growing in popularity: organic, vegetarian and vegan.

Challenges arise when attempting to pair wines with the proliferation of diets that abound. Compounding this is the difficulty we now encounter when planning a dinner gathering. Vegans and Keto diet proponents tend not to dine together well at a communal table.

As difficult as it may be to satisfy these conflicting culinary preferences/mandates, it is less difficult to pair these meals with wine. A number of wines can coexist with varied menus. These are wines that tend to be well balanced. Their fruit and acidity live in harmony and are compatible with – and an enhancement to – a broad range of ingredients. A Burgundian-style Pinot Noir tends to be medium-bodied and balanced, with a mild fruit and spice profile. These characteristics make it as ideal for mild meat courses as for robust vegetable dishes.

The rule of thumb I generally follow is to match the wine with the dominant flavor of the dish. A balanced Pinot Noir will be the perfect foil to a peppercorn-encrusted grilled salmon with roasted Brussels sprouts – or a pungent, classic ratatouille.

An Italian Barolo will pair as well with a roasted organic mushroom fricassee as with a chargrilled porterhouse steak served with caramelized onions.  

The carnivore and the vegan can feast in harmony at the dinner table with these congenial pairings.

Wine is the great mediator of all food diets. Take advantage of this unique characteristic for your next gastronomically diverse meal.

Nick Antonaccio is a 40-year Pleasantville resident. For over 25 years, he has conducted numerous wine tastings and lectures. Nick is a member and Program Director of the Wine Media Guild of wine journalists. He also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at nantonaccio@theexaminernews.com or on Twitter @sharingwine.

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