Today's post is a guest post from Toni Ambrosini
Those of you who follow me on Twitter know that I have a healthy obsession with food. I am happy to share Twitpics of various pizzas and grilled meats. Then my followers can be envious that they don’t have any.
I also have a fascination with wine, also well-documented on Twitter. If I didn’t, there is zero chance of me contributing this guest post to Vinotology today. Reading and tasting are two things I wish I could do all day, every day.
But putting the two together can be a headache for some, and occasionally for me. With so many flavor and aroma combinations…where do you even start?
Well, the great thing about food and wine pairing is this. You can largely do whatever you want! Eat what you like. Drink what you like. That’s what I say. If I want to drink a dry Washington Riesling with my bowl of turkey and black bean chili, that’s what I’m going to do.
However, there are a few basic rules out there that can help you prevent your palate from experiencing complete mayhem.
Don’t get sick about it…remember, food and wine is supposed to be a fun thing to do! It should relieve stress, not create it.
Full bodies love rich foods
Basically, this means if you have some weight to the food, you need equal weight of wine. Weight, body, texture, and mouthfeel can all be descriptors that are not easy to get a grasp of.
Let’s think of it like this. Take a boneless, skinless chicken breast. If you cook it by a method of adding liquid such as braising or poaching, you are adding weight to the meat. Therefore, you need a fuller-bodied wine to stand up to the chicken.
If you cook the chicken breast using a method that removes water, such as grilling or oven-roasting, a lighter or medium-bodied wine will do the trick.
So far, so good, right? Well, what’s going on the chicken? A sauce? A relish? Is it being marinated? Fear not. All you have to do is…
Play with intensity
Oven-roasting, pan-searing, and grilling are all cooking methods that create caramelization, and therefore more intense flavors. Look for a bolder wine, on the nose and the palate, to accompany foods prepared this way. This is why Zinfandel, Syrah, and Pinot Noir can work so well in this situation.
If you are eating a lightly-flavored dish, such as a poached chicken salad or boiled sausages, a delicate, yet fuller-bodied Chablis or Rheingau Riesling could treat you very well with their aromatic intensities.
Smoke rhymes with oak
Barbecue is one of my favorite things to eat. However, when you start adding smoke to the equation, your wine choices fall a bit, but it does make your choice easier! Look for different levels of oak to go with the level of smoke in the meat.
For example, California Sauvignon Blancs that see some light oak treatment take the harsh “green” character away, but add some slight smoky notes. Couple that with California’s warmer climate (compared to places like the Loire, for instance) creates a Sauvignon Blanc with more of a rich, stone fruit profile. This can be absolutely awesome with applewood-smoked (a mild wood), grill-roasted pulled pork.
For something more intense, with more pungent wood flavors (such as hickory-smoked beer-can chicken), look no further than your big, oaky New World Chardonnays.
Heat rhymes with sweet
If you are a fan of spicy foods from all over the world, such as Thai or Indian cuisine, look to the aromatic Alsatian varieties with some residual sugar. Riesling and Gewurztraminer are classic examples.
Think of it this way: you might order the boneless ribs or General Tso’s chicken from your local Pan-Asian restaurant for dinner. Look at the flavors in the sauce. A little bit of sweet, a little bit of heat. When those flavors are balanced, they taste damn good, don’t they?
Same thing goes for a Thai seafood and red curry stew. The hot red curry and the sweet coconut milk play well together.
The hotter the dish, the sweeter the wine should be.
Sharp tongues need a little salt
Sharp flavors, such as raw garlic and onion can be tricky, because those flavors really assault your senses. You’ll find these in Greek dishes, Mexican Pico de Gallo, or a simple Italian tomato and red onion salad. What do you do about this? Minerals and salt match very well in this situation. Wines that have unique, salty “lifts” to them are Assyrtiko, Torrontes, and Insolia.
Remember, you find that stuff in the spice aisle in your grocery store called “garlic salt” for a reason…it tastes good.
This is by no means a be-all, end-all list of rules. Like I said before, eat what you like. Drink what you like. Your only goal when it comes to pairing food and wine is to avoid catastrophic disaster and it is easy. You can do it!
I’d love to hear what you have tested on your own. Share your success stories as well as your failures. It makes everyone else smarter…and a little less intimidated.
Tony Ambrosini left his technical sales career after nine years to become a full-time dad. When off the clock from his duties as Operations Manager of the Ambrosini household, he has a quest to be a gastronomic superhero: cooking, writing, studying, and sharing all things food, wine, and spirits-related. Tony recently passed the WSET Advanced Certificate exam with Distinction, and has contributed at Examiner.com as the Wine Pairing Examiner for the Atlantic City, NJ area. He frequently experiments with various recipes in his own kitchen, and has a great passion for the sport of American Football. Tony is happy to chat about anything via Twitter under the handle: @acfoodandwine.