About The Author:

"Roger, The Wine Guy" is Roger Yazell, CWS. He is a member of the International Wine Guild and has had a long time admiration of wine. After careers in broadcasting, advertising and marketing account management, he explored his love of wine in hospitality, wholesale and retail sales. The intent of Roger's Grapevine is to share stories, history and information that will add to the reader's love, enjoyment and appreciation of wine and sake'.

Questions, requests for topics and comments are always welcome via email: rogerthewineguy@gmail.com.

(Note: The Wine Guy is currently undergoing chemotherapy and this blog will be on hiatus for the duration and into a recovery period. The Wine Guy is planning to celebrate his recovery with a trip to the two wine producing regions in Argentina and that should provide for some interesting new blogs. Meanwhile please enjoy the archives and feel free to email in the interim.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Pairing Wine with Food Isn't Hard!


Most neophyte wine consumers believe that pairing wine with food is difficult, requires intensive training, and needs to be handled by experts. Let me assure you that this simply isn’t the case. Pairing wine with food is adventuresome, fun, often exciting and can be successfully done by anyone with functioning taste buds, sense of smell and everyday common sense.

We professionals in the trade talk a lot about “organoleptics”. That’s the art of analyzing the tastes of things through the use of all the sensory organs (sight, smell, feel and taste). As professionals, it helps us to understand and learn about each wine we study. It applies, as well, to food and is an area of study and skill development for any serious chef. Applied to both wine and food together, it provides a basis for understanding the technical aspects of pairing food and wine.
For those of us who constantly want to learn and explore more in our beloved fields, it’s an important area.

Organoleptics isn’t required, however, to successfully pair wine with food. Those that believe that are the same ones who propagate the myth that for every food item, there is a “perfect” or “ideal” wine pairing. There should be many great wine pairings for each food item. Remember that wine IS food and has been the natural accompaniment to meals for over 4,000 years. It developed out of the need to have a safe beverage that would complement the food and make it safer and easier to consume.

The first hard and fast rule to remember is: Never pair food with a wine that you wouldn’t enjoy by itself. While it might be a terrific pairing for someone else, if you don’t enjoy the wine, you won’t enjoy the pairing. Always pair food with a wine you enjoy!

To complement food, wine doesn’t have to match perfectly in flavors. In fact sometimes, a contrast works very well. What the wine and food must do to one another is to enhance and highlight the key positive flavor characteristics of each other. They should not enhance or highlight any negative flavor characteristics nor should the key characteristics of one overpower and totally overshadow the other. How do you know when that has happened? Your taste buds will tell you! Trust them to be your guide just as you’ve trusted them to choose your favorite foods and beverages all your life.

The second rule to remember is: to know if a new experience is suitable for you, you have to try something new. Since it’s your taste buds involved, it really is mostly a trial and error process and pairing suggestions should be considered as guideposts or starting points to discovering the wine pairings that work for you.

Asking for advice and help is fine, but always make sure the wine professional you seek advice from does the following:
1) Gets a sense of the kind of wines you normally like to drink.
(This helps insure his recommendations are more based on your taste preferences than his.)
2) Asks how the item to be paired is being prepared.
(Additional flavors from preparation, spices and sauces may impact the choice of wine.)
3) Offers multiple pairing options for you to choose from.
(I personally love restaurants that will list more than one suggestion for each item when they do suggested wine pairings on the menu and generally mistrust them if they only list one.)
4) Advises what you should avoid in selecting a wine to pair and gives the reasons why.
(You’ll probably learn more about good wine pairing and develop more of your own pairing common sense from this advice than anything else.)


The final rule to remember is: YOU are the best judge. The purpose of pairing wine with food is to enhance the enjoyment of both. If it doesn’t work for you, then it simply doesn’t work! Seek another pairing that will.

O.K. it’s time to go forth and try some pairings. Make it fun by inviting friends over to sample 3-4 different wines. Try pairing each one with several different food appetizers and rating each combination on a 1 to 5 point scale. With each wine, try the same appetizers. Have your guests see which appetizer scored highest (and/or lowest) with each wine and discuss why. It’s fun and you’ll learn a lot.

If you would like to have some examples to use as guideposts, here’s some wine pairings that The Wine Guy has enjoyed:

Pasta with meat or mushrooms and red sauce:
Almost any good Italian red is worth trying but my favorite is a good Montepulciano d’ Abruzzo. The earthiness of this wine serves it well in pairing with red sauce pastas.

Shrimp stir-fry:
Good crisp, dry white wines with subtle fruit flavors work well. My most frequent choice is a Chenin Blanc, preferably from South Africa.

Mexican Bean Dip:
The Wine Guy makes his own with refried beans, cheese, green onions, cilantro and salsa. I’ve tried a lot of combinations that were so-so but had my socks knocked off when I paired the dip and good quality tortilla chips with a Spanish Cava.

Baked Halibut:
This light and delicate fish can be easily overpowered but still needs a wine that will bring some flavor accent. On someone else’s suggestion, I tried my halibut with a Spanish Albarino and it’s been my first wine of choice for this dish ever since.

Grilled Hamburgers:
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot come to most people’s mind (unless you’ve got a good Trappist Tripel Ale in hand). While they work, given the choice, I’ll pour a good Carmenere from Chile.

French Onion Soup:
We tend to think of entrees for wine pairings but certain soups are regular meals for Mrs. Wine Guy and myself. With this one, we enjoy having a good French Viognier especially if it’s been lightly aged in oak.

Sweet & Sour Chicken (or Pork):
With sweet teriyaki, sour pineapples, meat green peppers, etc, there’s a lot going on for a wine to stumble over. Some of the traditional Asian food whites (Riesling, gew├╝rztraminer, et al) have a tendency for me to over accent the sweet side. My trial and error led me to try a rose’ of pinot noir and it was a delightful pairing with both the wine and the dish becoming more enjoyable than they would have been on their own!

The above example is what you’re hoping to find as you explore pairing wine with food. Lots of wines will go with almost any dish you choose but when you discover a pairing where both the dish and the wine taste significantly better together than they would on their own, you’ve hit the bulls eye!

Happy exploring and good luck with your pairings!

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