Pairing wine and food is a favorite activity 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, a crisp white Austrian wine with full acidity and a touch of pepper and minerality.
When consumed at the same meal, the crispness of the lettuce and dressing become more pronounced with a sip of the Grüner. The wine’s individual 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.
This form of pairing, with practice, 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 needs. Ten years ago carnivores dominated the 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: high protein, low calorie and low fat are just a few, not to mention fad diets. At the other end of the spectrum are the allergy diets (gluten-, lactose- and nut-free) and the “earth-friendly” diets. (organic, vegetarian and vegan)
Challenges arise when attempting to pair wines that are compatible with the proliferation of diets that abound. Compounding this is the difficulty we now encounter when planning a dinner gathering. Vegans and Atkins diet proponents tend not to dine together well at the communal table.
As difficult as it may be to satisfy these conflicting culinary preferences/needs, it is less difficult to pair these meals with wine. A number of wines can co-exist with varied menus. They tend to be well balanced. 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 on the dish. A balanced Pinot Noir will be the perfect foil to a peppercorn encrusted salmon with roasted brussel sprouts–or a pungent classic ratatouille.
An Italian Barbera will pair as well with a roasted organic mushroom fricassee as with a char-grilled porterhouse steak served with caramelized onions.
The carnivore and the vegan can graze in harmony at the dinner table with these congenial pairings.
Other wines that I find ameliorate food and wine potential conflicts are Beaujolais, the unheralded ambassador of culinary détente; wines derived from the Sangiovese grape, which tends to be a bit more acidic than other red wines, creating balance between tomato based dishes as well as wild game roasts; and Sauvignon Blanc, which can just as easily tame fiery Asian vegetarian dishes as it can punch up the subtlety of seared scallops.
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 30-year Pleasantville resident. For over 10 years he has conducted wine tastings and lectures. He is co-host of “Glass Up, Glass Down,” a local cable television series on wine and food; he also offers personalized wine tastings and wine travel services. Nick’s credo: continuous experimenting results in instinctive behavior. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sharingwine.