Over the weekend, our monthly From Vine to Wine class delved into the art of food and wine pairings. Pairing wine with food can be quite a mystery for many of us. We all know that we are “supposed” to drink white wine with fish and red wine with meat, but outside of that what do we really know? What if I told you that it has nothing to do with the type of meat (protein) you are eating, but all in the way it is prepared? What do I mean by this?
Let me explain with this example. Take a simple piece of locally caught summer flounder and prepare it two ways. The first preparation is lightly sautéed in butter until tender then brushed with a lemon-butter sauce and served with steamed vegetables. The second preparation is a whole fish roasted with tomatoes, capers and olives, then sauced with a light tomato broth and served with roasted squash. What we have are two distinct flavor combinations, the fist light with fresh, citrus flavors that are delicate to eat, and the second is much more robust with salty, roasted flavors. Now, they are both fish but if we served them both with the same wine, something gets lost in translation.
Here is how we handle this situation:
Preparation 1: The dish contains citrus, butter and light tender fish. We’re looking to pair this delicate fish with wine that will complement the flavors, but not overwhelm the dish. The paired wine should have the following characteristics:
- High acidity. Acid helps to balance the richness of the butter and complement the flavors of the lemon.
- Low alcohol. Alcohol determines the richness of the wine; low alcohol (13% or lower) equals a light wine.
- High amounts of fruit. In this case citrus fruits, lemon, lime and/or grapefruit flavors work best.
- Low sugar. Sugar in wine makes the wine taste “flabby” when paired with acidic food.
When we take all of these elements and add them up, they equal one perfect pairing for this dish: Sauvignon Blanc, either from France (Sancerre) or New Zealand. A light, crisp white wine is the perfect match for this dish. My specific recommendations are Pasacal Jolivet, Sancerre from the Loire Valley in France and Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand.
Preparation 2: The dish contains olives, capers and tomatoes with a roasted, smoky fish. These flavors are salty and umami in nature, and we are looking for a more robust wine that can stand up to the heavy flavors of this dish. The wine should have the following characteristics:
- Medium acidity. The acid in this case helps to balance the saltiness of the dish, but we don’t want so much so that it negates the salt.
- Medium alcohol. Alcohol determines the richness of the dish and we want a medium bodied wine (13.5%-14.5%), a wine that can stand up to the rich flavors of the dish but also be gentle enough to not overpower the flounder.
- Low fruit. We want some fruit flavors here, but perhaps on the drier side. Think pomegranate instead of strawberry. Too much fruit in a wine to accompany this dish can make the saltiness overpowering.
- Low sugar. The salt in the dish can make a sugary wine taste flabby and off balance.
When considering all of these elements, a few wines come to mind as ideal partners for this dish: Sangiovese (Chianti) from Tuscany, Italy and Pinot Noir either from France or Oregon.
YES RED WINE with fish! Red wine is a great pairing in this case, the briny flavors of the sauce and the caramelization of the fish scream for a bolder wine. If you still can’t get past “white with fish”, I recommend a richer white such as a Pinot Grigio from Italy. My recommendations are Antinori, “Peppoli” Chianti from Italy and Willamette Valley Vineyards, “Whole Cluster” Pinot Noir from Oregon. For the Pinot Grigio, I recommend Bortoluzzi, Pinot Grigio from Venezia.
Pairing wine with food is a science and there is a good amount of thought that can go into it. Many say that if you eat what you like and drink what you like then you will be fine. I don’t disagree with this statement at all, but if you are looking to make a simple meal a true experience, or take a dining experience and make it magical, then spending a few minutes to create a perfect food and wine pairing is worthwhile.
Just us next month, September 18-19, to explore the exciting world of unique red wines.
Director of Food & Beverage/Head Sommelier