The idea of matching wines with meals is to create a synergy in which the overall pleasure is greater than it would be from just the wine or the meal separately. Never lose sight of the objective that increasing pleasure is the point of the whole enterprise, and that since your taste is unique to you finding the best matches for your palate is likely to require much enjoyable trial and – well – more trial.
The Received Wisdom
If you’re just starting out and looking for somewhere to begin, the generally agreed approach is to match according what’s called weight, although strength might be a better word. This means to pair light, delicately flavoured food with light, subtle wines and heavy, strongly flavoured foods with heavier, more robust ones. Scallops in a cream and dill sauce, for example, are likely to be most enjoyable with a crisp, dry chardonnay from Chablis or New Zealand’s Marlborough region, and a bowl of spinach pasta with spicy Italian sausage, hot peppers, and plenty of garlic would be likely to benefit from a muscular syrah (shiraz if you’re in Australia) or a robust Italian red like a Valpolicella. If, however, the traditional approach doesn’t do it for you and you’ve found a favourite variety that you enjoy with all kinds of food, there’s nothing wrong with sticking with it.
Exploration Can Be Fun
Here’s where the trial and more trial comes in. Try preparing one of your favourite dishes and open several bottles of wine that you think might enhance it. Taste each wine by itself, being sure to clear your palate with a bite from a plain baguette before each. Then enjoy a mouthful or two of the food by itself. Then taste each wine with the food, clearing your palate after each tasting, and consider which combination you prefer. Try this at a dinner party and discuss the pairings with your friends. Another experiment would be to open a bottle of a good varietal and try it with mouthfuls of various titbits of food. Never forget that the goal is pleasure. Enjoy pursuing it.
IMG: Werner Heiber – Fotolia