Does it really make a difference what wine you pair with your food? I mean, to be totally honest, I drink my favorite Cab with pretty much anything. Especially if it’s the end of a Friday and mama just needs to loosen up a little, ya know? However, the more I read about wine and the complexities of this luxurious libation, the more I do want to branch out and think outside my Cab box and maybe, just maybe try something new.
So, I’m hosting a dinner party complete with hors d’oeuvres, appetizer, entrée and dessert. I want to be professional about this, or at least impress my friends, so what do I pair with each course? Here’s what I’ve researched and am about to put to the culinary and imbibatory test. Yes, imbibatory. My Latin teacher would be proud.
Since hors d’oeuvres can be pretty much anything, but in miniature form, you need a broad spectrum wine that can go with a variety of flavors. A good quality Rosé is like a light, sparkly red: you get the best of both worlds – the acidity of a white and the fruitiness of a red, which makes it a decent go-to when kicking off your dinner evening.
Combine melon with prosciutto for a sweet and savory bite with your Rosé.
Olives, hummus and anchovies also pair nicely. (Think anchovie tapenade!)
A fresh garden salad, a savory soup? You want to keep it lighter here as well so as not to overwhelm the palate. The rule here is to pair earthy wines with earthy foods. So a nice garden fresh salad or a lentil soup would pair nicely with an earthy Pinot Noir. A wild mushroom soup would also make fast friends with your Pinot.
OK, here’s where it gets a little more complicated. Are we thinking red meat? Poultry? Fish? And what about the spice-factor? I prefer little to no spice, my husband, on the other hand, likes an inferno-in-your-mouth kind of spice. So let’s look at both, shall we?
Maybe the reason I love my cabs is because they’re so rich and full-bodied. That’s what you want to pair with a rich piece of red meat. Think steak. The Malbec from Argentina is also a good fit. If you’re not a steak person, what about duck? It’s rich, fleshy and flavorful meat also goes nicely with Syrah.
If you want to up your game and go all spicy on me, it’s best to go with a low-alcohol wine. Unless of course you like the inferno-in-your-mouth approach as said husband above. Why? Because alcohol brings out the oils in spicy foods, making them even more spicy. Sauvignon Blanc will not accentuate the spice in Mexican and southwestern dishes. Indian and middle eastern dishes pair well with Shiraz (Syrah), Grenache or Côtes du Rhône. Choose a Riesling to pair with spicy Asian and Thai dishes.
Chicken & Pork
Lighter meats like chicken and pork go better with lighter wines. Often, these meats are cooked in sauces so think about what would pair nicely with the sauce. Usually a low tannin white or red is a good option. Try a Shiraz for pork and a Chardonnay with chicken.
I do enjoy a yummy piece of sockeye salmon. Again, cue the Cabernet here. Now, because salmon is a rich and meaty fish, I think cabs go nicely. But here are some other options for us, because we are thinking outside the cab box. Rich white wines are recommended, like an oaked chardonnay or a vintage champagne. If we want to get fancier, how about a dry Lambrusco or a white Côtes du Rhône? For lighter fish like cod and trout, try a dry Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, white Rioja or a Fiano.
My favorite meal of the day. Dessert, please. Now, as someone who once said in my youth that you could never have a dessert that was too sweet, I do believe that that door has closed in my culinary and gustat-atory life. Because it is true. You can overwhelm your taste buds with way too much sweetness! But here’s the deal, it’s actually better to have a wine that’s sweeter than your dessert. Otherwise your dessert will come out more bitter or tart and we don’t want that. My favorite dessert wine by far is port which goes nicely with anything chocolate or equally rich and decadent. Ice wine is about as sweet as you can get. We’re talking hummingbird nectar. This kind of sweet would probably be best served with a fruit dish, maybe a lovely braised pear dessert?
Now it is time to recline in the parlor and allow all that deliciousness to rest well in our tummies. I hope this has inspired your next dinner party and that you go beyond the limits of your wine comfort zone when selecting the right pairings to go with your courses. But wait! Before you tuck in for the night, try some of these nightcaps to tickle your tastebuds and send you off to dreamland…
Yum! Bon Appétit, and Cheers!