Wine and food matching is the process of pairing food dishes with wine to enhance the dining experience. In many cultures, wine has had a long history of being a staple at the dinner table and in some ways both the winemaking and culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together over the years. Rather than following a set of rules, local cuisines were paired simply with local wines. The modern "art" of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings of particular foods and wine. In the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to make food pairing recommendations for the guest.
The main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently to each other and finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable. However, taste and enjoyment are very subjective and what may be a "textbook perfect" pairing for one taster could be less enjoyable to another. Here are some ideas about what will work together. Always drink what you like. Remember "Wine is Food".
Wine Types for Grilled Foods
It should have the aromatics to stand up not only to smoke but to the flowers of spring and the evening's breezes. It should be flexible, able to adapt to a wide range of marinades, sauces and rubs. Most of all, it should be fun. Here are some thoughts and a few suggestions:
Few foods and wines are as compatible with each other as lamb and Zinfandel. Both are dense and rich, with firm backbones and chewy flavors. Sangiovese, Barbera, Syrah or one of the secondary Rhone Valley varietals (Mourvedre, Carignane, and Grenache) also will work well.
For example: A great Amador County Zinfandel: A tribute to the tenacity of foothill deer that know a good grape when they see one and don't hesitate to help themselves, this is a classic Amador County Zinfandel. It is jammy with flavors of blackberries and raspberries and none of those nettlesome seeds. Bring on the lamb and rosemary.
New York or flank? Porterhouse or tri-tip? It doesn't much matter. As long as the beef is rich and succulent, the wine needs to be full-bodied, ripe and firm. Merlot, Malbec, Barbera and Sangiovese will work if the meat isn't heavily seasoned, but as the sauces and rubs intensify look to Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Zinfandel and Syrah.
For example: A Lodi Petite Sirah: You might want to lay this away for a patio party five years down the road. Its one big, ripe example of the varietal, but not so heavily extracted it can't be drunk now, provided the beef is the biggest, richest hunk on the block.
If the chicken is lightly seasoned; grab a bottle of White Zinfandel, Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling. As the marinade, salsa or rub ratchets up, adjust the weight of the wine accordingly, moving to Chardonnay, Viognier and, finally, a youthful Petite Sirah when the bird is glazed with a sweet and thick barbecue sauce.
For example: Merryvale Vineyards & Winery 2004 Starmont Chardonnay: By drawing fruit from half a dozen vineyards in Napa and Sonoma counties, Steve Test has produced a textbook "bridge" chardonnay. It has the youthful apple fruitiness to attend grilled chicken adorned with only the lightest of seasonings yet also with the smoky toastiness to stand up to legs glazed with a lively curry.
You can't miss with a ripe, jammy California Zinfandel or a peppery Australian Shiraz.
For example: Mike Ditka (retired Chicago Bears Coach) 2003 Shiraz: A juicy, lively black-cherry fruitiness, generous dashes of black pepper and a lean but firm structure add up to a Shiraz substantial and agile enough to stand up to ribs with a traditionally sweet and spicy but not too thickly applied sauce.
White wine with fish? Not always, and especially not when the fish is salmon, whose rich, fatty flesh is best complemented by the fruitiness of a husky Pinot Noir. But for the purists in the crowd, also have on hand a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier or Semillon.
For example: Mike Lee made a staggering 46,000 cases of his Kenwood Vineyards 2000 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The quantity didn't affect quality, as shown at the recent Riverside International Wine Competition, where it was a sweepstakes nominee. Go ahead and burn the salmon; no one will complain as long as they have a glass of this pinot noir in front of them.
OK, back to the old-time rule - white with white. Swordfish has the sort of firm flesh best complemented by a forward Chardonnay, whether from California, Oregon or Washington.
For example: A Carneros Chardonnay: Another sweepstakes nominee at Riverside, these are one intense, rippling chardonnays, with the sort of rich citric fruitiness ideal for grilled swordfish with a tropical-fruit salsa.
The sweetness and snap of shrimp just off the grill calls for a white wine with plenty of fruit and zip, and the two varietals that best fit the bill are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio/Pinot Gris.
For example: J Wine Co. 2004 Russian River Valley Pinot Gris: In this release, the variety's usual tingly fruitiness is presented with atypical complexity, yielding more melon in the smell, more peach in the flavor and more muscle on the bones.
No matter how much they are blended together, or with what, hamburgers are casual and comforting, and call for a casual and comforting wine - Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah (also called Shiraz).
For example: Delicato Family Vineyards 2004 California Shiraz: The 2003 version of this wine cleaned up on the competition circuit. The 2004 looks cut from the same cloth, boasting the kind of fresh berry fruitiness and caressing finish that boosted the 2004 to so many awards.
Wine with Food Pairing Suggestions
Pair with smoked salmon, grilled mozzarella and prosciutto, and flatbread with fresh tomato, basil and roasted garlic.
Pair with a classic beef stew, aged Gouda, and rosemary-rubbed pork tenderloin.
Pair with grass-fed beef, whether grilled, roasted, braised or stir-fried.
Pair with white fish, shellfish and free-range chicken – especially with creamy, buttery sauces.
Pair with seared scallops, chicken in coconut curry, or sliced ripe pears with fresh or slightly aged sheep’s milk cheeses.
Pair with nuts—almonds and hazelnuts—as well as chocolate tortes, vanilla custard, peach cobbler and ricotta cheesecake. In general, aim to pair sweet dessert wines with sweet desserts, and light dessert wines with light desserts.
Pair with smoked white fish, spicy stir-fried dishes, or slightly sweet desserts.
Pair with any grilled shellfish as well as salami, sliced ham and other charcuterie.
Pair with crab, squid, or clams with garlic butter as well as grilled snapper with lemon zest.
Pair with classic rack of lamb, beef fajitas, and roasted root vegetables.
Pair with creamy potato-leek soup or roasted butternut squash with cinnamon butter.
Pair with sautéed duck breasts or roasted pork tenderloin.
Pair with roast duck or squab, seared New York Strip steak with cracked black pepper, or a tangy blue cheese.
Pair sparkling and late-harvest Muscat with fruit tarts, vanilla custard, dark chocolate torte, or rich cheesecake.
Pair with sweet barbecued chicken, a cold roast beef sandwich with mustard, or mild blue cheeses.
Pair with pasta with a fresh tomato-based sauce, or spicy noodles with shrimp.
Pair with Thai spring rolls, spicy stir-fried chicken, or a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich on rustic country bread.
Pair with wood-smoked bacon, roast leg of veal or grilled wild salmon.
Pair with pulled pork tacos, barbecued chicken wings, or slow-cooked short ribs.
Pair with Tandoori chicken with mango chutney, Moroccan-spiced halibut, or pumpkin with coconut curry.
Pair with barbecued free-range beef, lamb, pork, chicken or spicy sausage.