One of the challenging questions I’ve been asked is which wine to serve with a specific dish. As I’ve never served as a sommelier in a restaurant, where they know exactly which wines to pair with their menus, I turn back to my lessons through the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), trial and error, and a great book: What to Drink with What you Eat (see below for the full skinny on the book).
Learning to Pair
From my studies the first thing I learned was to pair like with like or opposites with opposites. Like with like is the easiest, think of a bold and tannic (the dry quality of a wine that comes from the length of time with grape skin contact, grape seeds and oak aging) Cabernet Sauvignon with a boldly flavorful steak. The tannins serve to break down the protein and fat in a steak. This is why you reach for a sip after every bite, if you’re like me.
That “A Ha” Moment
For opposites, my of-all-time favorite pairing is a sweet dessert wine like a golden French Sauternes with Stilton blue cheese. The first time it was served to me was in a dessert wine pairing class. I couldn’t stomach the sweet tarts and cakes first paired with the sweet wine, and when it came time to pairing the same wine with a very strong cheese, I scoffed at that as well.
But then, when I put a little taste of Stilton cheese on my tongue and washed the wine over it a miraculous thing happened, that thing you want to happen in a great pairing: both the wine and the cheese changed! The nuttiness of the cheese came out and the honey in the sweet wine also blossomed. I actually reached over to some of the empty places settings and took all the cheese over to mine!
I’ve shared this pairing with dozens of people. Notably was a state senator that asked for a unique dessert to bring to Thanksgiving dinner for a small group. Told him to bring a split (half bottle) of Sauternes or any white dessert wine, and a wedge of blue cheese and watch what happens. He messaged me the very next day to say what a hit it was with all of the guests, many experiencing their first “a ha!” moment.
The Definitive Pairing Book
The hardest to pair are astringent foods like asparagus. That’s when the pairing book What to Eat with What You Drink I referenced earlier comes in so handy. If you ask me what to pair with something so random that I have no immediate suggestions, I will search this handy book and offer up ideas that range from all types of wine, beer and non-alcoholic drinks such as tea.
For example, the section on what to pair with scallops includes how the scallops are prepared – as the sauce or cooking style makes a huge difference in a pairing. The “in general” suggestions are followed by the style you’ve cooked your scallops. So while a standard shellfish may do nicely with several different types of white wine, your scallops made with brown butter would do better with a dark beer, a citrus sauce calls for a Riesling, cream sauce begs for Champagne, and so on. Read more below.
WHAT to DRINK with WHAT you EAT THE DEFINITIVE GUIDE TO PAIRING FOOD WITH WINE, BEER, SPIRITS, COFFEE, TEA – EVEN WATER – BASED ON EXPERT ADVICE FROM AMERICA’S BEST SOMMELIERS by ANDREW DORNENBURG and KAREN PAGE, JAMES BEARD AWARD-WINNING AUTHORS OF Becoming a Chef AND Culinary Artistry (This mix of CAPITAL LETTERS and italics is how the cover looks.)
The book is divided in two sections: First is alphabetical by food; second is alphabetical by drink. Actually there are 8 chapters in all but it still is encapsulated in the two ideas.
Questions? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Eve Bushman has a Level Two Intermediate Certification from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET), a “certification in the first globally-recognized course” as an American Wine Specialist ® from the North American Sommelier Association (NASA), Level 1 Sake Award from WSET, was the subject of a 60-minute Wine Immersion video (over 16k views), authored “Wine Etiquette for Everyone” and has served as a judge for the Las Vegas Proof Awards, LA Wine Competition, Long Beach Grand Cru and the Global Wine Awards. You can email Eve@EveWine101.com to ask a question about wine or spirits.