January 05, 2014

The methodology used to match wines to food.

Most of us know all too well the trepidation that comes with pairing food and wine. There are seemingly as many approaches to the issue as there are wine drinkers. Some folks say to disregard the food side of the equation and simply choose the wine you’re in the mood for. Others, however, believe a particular dish deserves its own particular wine, and suggest an exacting set of rules to follow in order to find it. I hold to the middle ground: There ought to be rules or guidelines that help a consumer find a good match, but the rules should be simple and flexible.


Here are a few things to keep in mind when pairing wine with food:


1)      Dominant Flavors


A chicken dish with a honey-based sauce will show a degree of sweetness, while shrimp in a lemon sauce will carry undertones of sourness. Each dominant flavor (sweet, salty, sour or bitter) requires a different style of wine.


Normally, the dominant flavor is in the sauce, condiments or accompaniments and not in the protein itself. We have traditionally been taught to pair meats with red wines and fish with whites. This was perhaps true when our cooking was simpler. But, with the influences of so many diverse cuisines, we need to take into consideration a slew of new flavors, many of which play havoc with the traditional pairing philosophy.


2)      Complementary Flavors


Following this notion, you would look for a wine that matches or suggests the flavor of a dish in order to accentuate that flavor. So choose a wine that shows sweeter fruit for a dish with sweet ingredients and a bracing, higher-acidity wine for a dish with a tart profile.


     3) Adversarial Flavors.


Here, you would search for a wine to diminish or offset the dominant flavor of the dish, by playing counterpoint to it. Example: Spicy dishes with a Riesling or other wine with a touch of sweetness.


4)      Weight of Dish


By weight, I mean the mouth-feel and chewiness in the protein of the dish. By this theory, a wine’s body or weight should match the weight of the dish.


     . Filet of sole is a light protein and needs a light-bodied wine, while steak is a heavy protein and would best be served with a full-bodied wine. Salmon, because of its fat content, is medium-bodied and requires a like-bodied wine.


     . Method of preparation and cooking style will also affect the weight of the dish.


We’ll be posting recipes from time to time, along with wines to drink with them. The methodology mentioned should make things a bit clearer, but nothing helps the understanding more than actual practice.


Bear with me, as I cook by eye and instinct. Do not expect measurements or lengthy explanations. When I say a “pinch of salt” or “a touch” of a particular spice, take it for what it’s worth and use common sense. Please feel free to experiment; I do it all the time. If you don’t like rosemary, use sage. If you don’t care for the smell of onions, use scallions instead. Just have fun! All my recipes are fairly easy to follow, fast and use few ingredients. Following the recipe, I’ll recommend appropriate wines, all available at the store.


Chicken with dry fruit and pine nuts.

1 chicken (3.5 #) cut up in small pieces.

2oz of smoked bacon

8-10 dried prunes

6-8 dried apricots

White wine, a bit of vinegar

Hand full of toasted pine nuts.

3 cloves of garlic. Just mashed with skin on.

Olive oil

Spoonful of flour/ one ounce of butter/some honey

(Salt/ pepper/cayenne/2 bay leaves)

Fresh parsley

  • Macerate the prunes and apricots in white wine for at least 3 hours.
  • Cover the bottom of a large skillet with olive oil and sautee the bacon at low heat till it’s rendered. Remove bacon and cast aside.
  • Season the chicken with salt/ pepper/cayenne to taste.
  • Brown the chicken pieces in the skillet, add the garlic, pour in the wine from the fruit macerate. and transfer to a pre-heated oven (350) till the inner chicken temperature reaches 160.
  • Remove from the oven, deglaze the roasting pan with a bit more wine.
  • Transfer the chicken and sauce to the skillet, add the fruit, the nuts, the honey and a splash of vinegar.
  •  Simmer and stir at low heat till it all comes together. Around 10 minutes.
  • If there is not enough liquid add a bit of warm water.
  • Add the butter and the flour to thicken the sauce. Remove the garlic pieces.
  • Stir the parsley and serve with broccoli rabe.


Red:        A wine with higher acidity and yet soft fruity nuances.

White: A medium body white with softness and fruit.