10 Food Friendly Pours
When it comes to food and wine, there are no rules but common sense should definitely apply
Food and wine pairing has taken a few hits over the years, but most of the dreadful pairings I have experienced are the results of zealots and youth. While I'm a believer in the statement "there are no rules when it comes to food and wine," there is common sense, and I have attended far too many dinners where for some reason or another common sense did not prevail.
Choosing the 10 best food wines seemed a daunting assignment, especially for a wine writer, so let me first set a few parameters. Publishers and advertisers love words like "best" and "greatest," while I would prefer something more sensible like "my favourites," "best bets" or anything just a little less certain.
My inspiration for food-friendly wine matches comes from classic food dishes where the synergy between the ingredients is what makes them special. Bacon and eggs, fish and chips, macaroni and cheese, cookies and milk, peanut butter and bananas, spaghetti and meatballs, and, well, you get the point. I'm betting most of you will have experienced many of these matches and know, for some reason or another, the combination simply tastes better.
Most great food and wine matches begin with wines that lend themselves to being paired perfectly - wines that are the most balanced, where the sugar, acid and tannin coexist and feed each other, elevating the wine and the food to an even higher level.
Here is a list of some of the most food-friendly wine types I know. I have also suggested some food items that set the wine off in the finest of lights. Each wine type comes with a classic and a more adventurous bottle you might consider having on hand for a vinous emergency.
It's not easy to suggest a big, rambunctious, tannic, cabernet sauvignon is the ultimate food-friendly wine, but it is the largest-selling varietal wine in the world, so bring on the steak or roast beef. As it ages, cabernet mellows, leading to other possibilities such as osso buco, mushroom risotto, medium soft cheeses and chocolate.
I love the minerality and seashore quality you detect in Chablis, on the nose and the palate. So crisp, so lean, so correct, it pushes the boundaries of austerity. Yet pair it with some oysters or with simply prepared, but super-fresh, seafood and all the food and wine lights finally light up.
Champagne is constructed from the beginning for food. The original still wine is highly acidic, which is the key to the wine's bubble journey. As it ferments a second time in bottle, it becomes a complex, effervescent, dry white wine that can easily tame the wild flavours of game or simply set off the classic gougère before the dinner starts. Some of my most memorable meals began, continued and finished with Champagne.
The grape everyone loves to drink can be a challenge for food given its oak content, but when the balance is correct and the fruit acid and minerality are allowed to shine through, you can serve chardonnay perfectly with scallops in a rich-meets-rich scenario. White wine with cheese is the match and Brie, Chaource or Taleggio all work with chardonnay.
There is an undeniably delicious, savoury character in malbec that makes it not only attractive to nose and sip, but when matched with similarly scented meats, it can be heaven. Lamb is my number one choice, but you can roast, grill or slow-cook osso buco-style and simply revel in its rich flavours. Don't forget to include a malbec or cot (as it is also known) from outside Argentina, too.
The rise of pinot noir's popularity is heightened by its affinity for food. Modest tannins make it as much fun to drink with salt cod and ahi tuna as it is alongside the classic duck confit. Throw in some mushroom risotto, grilled salmon or a runny French cheese, and you see why this wine must be in your repertoire.
Côtes du Rhône and Châteauneuf-du-Pape mark the home of the original Rhône blends, where the key grapes mixed in a variety of formats include syrah, grenache, mourvèdre, cinsault and carignan. Fresh, earthy and fruity, with bits of pepper, they seem to blend effortlessly with comfort foods such as grilled or roasted lamb, beef and poultry, chicken coq au vin, game, duck, pork or a variety of firm cheeses.
Riesling, with its bright, fruity/mineral flavours, could be the food-friendliest of all wines. Pan-Asian partners include Indian, Chinese, Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese, but it doesn't stop there. Spicy spare ribs and pulled pork sandwiches shine with riesling, as do many fish dishes and white meats.
Less acidity and lower alcohol are the key features of dry rosé, allowing it to pair with a variety of pasta dishes both warm and cold. You can add most fish dishes (the spicier, the better), or serve it with fresh goat cheese encrusted with peppercorns and dried tomatoes. Throw in some grilled chicken, pork and cold cuts with vegetable/mushroom or rice-based side dishes, and it truly is a go-to wine for all occasions.
I keep a selection of screwcap sauvignon blanc in my refrigerator for any entertaining emergencies. There is no better choice for sushi or just a piece of goat cheese with a fresh loaf of bread. And if you actually have a dinner planned, the menu can span halibut, black cod, a variety of shellfish and beyond. It's the balance between the tropical fruit, minerality and acidity that works its magic with the food.