Columns by John

John Brown has been a wine and food columnist in West Virginia since the 1980’s. His regular columns appear in the Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail under the title Vines & Vittles and in The State Journal - a statewide business weekly

Unconventional wine and food pairings? Go for it !

I’ve often said this before, but it bears repeating: don’t be constrained by convention when it comes to matching wine with food. The more you experiment, the more you will realize – like I have – that it’s both fun and instructive to try just about any combination of food and wine that strikes your fancy.

Wine snobs (aka Alt-Wine zealots) would have me dispatched to the grape crusher -if they could -for uttering such vinous heresy. You know the type of person I’m referring to, right? He’s the guy who wears a purple ascot and smoking jacket to the neighborhood barbecue, and wishes his name was Trevor. His mantra? White wine with fish and chicken, red wine with red meat- and absolutely no substitutes!!

Hey Trevor, I have news for you: there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to choosing which wine to serve with a particular meal. Not that I would suggest pairing Chateauneuf Du Pape with pan seared cod, but go ahead and be adventurous. You might be surprised at the tasty combo’s you’ll discover on your gustatory journey.

So here are some tips (not hard and fast rules) on where you may wish to start your wine and food pairing expedition.

Think about the flavor, texture and weight of the food and then consider which wine might be a good fit. You wouldn’t logically pair a full-flavored red wine with delicately broiled seafood. Think about it. The flavor and weight are all out of balance.

Instead, you might complement the dish with a delicate white wine such as Sancerre from the Loire Valley of France (made from sauvignon blanc) or an albarino from Spain. Conversely, a robust red wine such as cabernet sauvignon or merlot would pair seamlessly with a well-marbled rib-eye steak.

Abstract Label
Another element to consider in choosing a complimentary wine pairing is how the dish is seasoned. The addition of sauces or spices can add a flavor dimension that should be considered when picking the appropriate wine.

For example, pinot grigio would be an excellent choice with poached salmon in a dill sauce, while grilled salmon that has been dusted with cumin, black pepper and chili powder would overpower that same wine. Here’s an example where I suggest choosing a red wine to marry with that particular dish. With no apologies to Trevor, spicy, grilled salmon requires a medium-bodied red such as pinot noir or even sangiovese.

The texture of a dish can also play an important role in determining the best wine match. And sometimes that means pairing the dish with a wine that has contrasting notes or nuances. For instance, if you have a rich, fatty piece of beef, lamb or pork, a good wine match might be a young tannic and astringent red like zinfandel or petite sirah. That’s because the mouth feel of the wine will provide a pleasant contrast to the richness of the meat, and also serve to cleanse the palate.

Probably the most difficult dish to pair with wine is any type of vinaigrette, particularly those used on salads. Vinegar or acid-based dressings clash with most wines, destroying the flavors of both the salad and the wine. The only possible palatable pairing I’ve found is to match the vinaigrette with a very dry sparkling wine such as a Cava from Spain.

And finally, one of my favorite, but seemingly counter-intuitive pairings, is full-bodied red wine with chocolate desserts. As a matter of fact, one of the most exquisite dessert experiences I’ve had recently is paring the 2015 Orin Swift Abstract ($35) with a large slice of double chocolate cake.

The Abstract (a California blend of grenache, petite sirah, and syrah) is an opaque, purple monster full of rich, mocha and blackberry flavors. It is an absolutely delicious complement to chocolate. And the Abstract bottle has a really one-of-a-kind label with a collage of eclectic images. It’s sure to be a collector’s item.

So go forth and be adventuresome. Try some unconventional (maybe even outrageous) wine and food combinations. (Trevor will never know).
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