Matching Wine with Food

Matching wine with food is even more controversial than wine serving methods. The good news is that the results of a match are more immediately apparent and your opinion is what matters most. I follow just a few rules of matching wine with food.

Heavy wines with heavy food, light wines with light food. The idea is simple: you don't want your food to overpower your wine, or vice versa. A white wine will disappear with a grilled steak, and a Cabernet Sauvignon will make baked flounder seem flavorless. Many wine writers take these rules a step further, saying red wine with red meat, white wine with white meat and fish, but this is too restrictive. A grilled salmon stands up to red wine just fine, even a Cab. A lighter red, like a Pinot Noir, is just fine with Chicken. If the chicken is darkly seasoned or grilled, a darker red is fine. Many California Chardonnays are so powerful as to substitute for a red wine, although a French white Burgandy, made from the same grape, will not do so. Also, a wine like Pinot Noir is what I call a ``chameleon''. It seems to adapt itself to whatever is being served. On the other hand, a Pinot without food will seem unbalanced and acidic.

Drink wine that you like. If your are an inveterate Chardonnay drinker or always drink red, do not feel you have to change your drinking habits. On the other hand, a little experimentation may change your mind about your preferences.

Don't be afraid of contrasts. In complete contradiction with my first rule, some wines contrast with food successfully. A slightly sweet Chardonnay can go well with spicey Thai food. Here, the ``body'' of the wine and food match, but it is the fruit and spice that successfully contrast. Red wines are rarely good with spicey food--the wine becomes bland--but a young peppery French wine (many Rhones and Chateauneufdupaps) can actually be improved by peppery food. Some people like a tannic cab with chocolate for the contrast. Dessert wines go very well with contrasting flavors. A classic complement to Port is salted nuts or poached pears with bleu cheese.

A red wine with aromatic foods is dicey. For most reds with most cheeses, there is no match to be made, although you'll occasionally find a winner. Whites are good matches to soft cheeses on the other hand. I've also found that a particularly ``fishy'' seafood (like smoked oysters) will become fishier with red wine, ruining both the food and wine. A dry white wine better prepares the palate for such foods. Champagne and sherry are classic matches to fishy appetizers.