Looking to really impress your guests with your wine pairing finesse at your next dinner party? Perhaps you are just a little bored and tired with that same Pinot Grigio that you keep reaching for at the supermarket? Pairing wine with your meal does not have to adhere to the archaic and often strict rules that have traditionally governed the practice. Get out of your comfort zone with that chicken to chardonnay rule and break free of putting that boring cabernet with your steak.
The way that we eat and cook food is constantly evolving. Along with this culinary evolution our breadth of wine pairing knowledge should follow suite. So how exactly does one break out of the regimented routine of traditional wine pairings? The first thing you need to consider when wanting to break away is to weigh the body of the wine to what is on the menu for the evening. Look for things like smokiness, what flavors are being put forward? Is it fruity? Nutty? Herbaceous? Next look at what is going to be prepared. Traditional rules of wine pairing will generally leave you matching what wines will contrast to the flavors in your dishes.
Surprising Your Palate
While this is a great thing to keep in mind, all too often this becomes the first and last item that is considered. An excellent way to depart from this is to look at the fat content, sugar content or spiciness of your planned meal. If your meal features an item that is lightly fried, or may have a little fat on it, you want to pair it with a wine that is on the higher end of the acidity scale. Wines that have high acidity content generally act as a great resource for your palate to cut the “fatty”-ness out of an entrée, so each bite can be just as succulent and flavorful as the first.
This occurs because your taste buds are very quick to acclimate to whatever it is you are eating or drinking. Ever been eating some boxed candy at a movie theatre and go to take a swig of your soda? Chances are it’s going to taste significantly less sweet than if you were to have forgone that candy. In this same reasoning, you want to make sure that your wine selection is doing everything it can to add, not take away, from the flavors present in your entrees.
Wine to try; Bellini Vernaccia San Gimignano- A crisp, fruit-forward selection is that is great on taste and excellent on value, usually about eight bucks a bottle
Compliment the Spice
This being said, sugar content is not always a bad thing. For instance, let’s say you are cooking up a meal that has a lot of spice to it, perhaps and entrée that features jalapenos or a liberal use of black pepper. Traditional wine paring methodology says go for a red something deep and dark and nutty, while you are certain to find a lot of varieties in this department, it’s not really doing anything different. A great way to compliment a spicy dish is to look for a wine that has a high level of residual sugar. By the same logic of the acidity to fatness, a wine with a high level of residual sugar freshens the palate in between bites, ensuring that you and your guest’s mouths don’t succumb to that “all I taste is burning” sensation.
Wine to try; Lillet Blanc- Mildly sweet, but high enough in the residual sugar content to make any pallet enjoy a meal showcasing a little more kick and spice. Prices of this wine are generally in the $12 to $15 dollar range.
Break Out the Bubbly
Another great and largely unexplored pairing option is the incorporation of champagne into a meal. Champagne has for a long time been unfairly put into the “celebration” category of wines. Using a quality champagne does not have to translate to forking out a ton of cash. Supermarkets and wine shops are alive with affordable, quality champagne selections that just waiting to be featured in your next dinner party.
Champagne makes a great non-traditional pairing choice for a meal focusing on seafood, particularly pasta dishes featuring shellfish such as clams, oysters or even lobster. These dishes often feature a high amount of buttery, rich tastes. The carbon dioxide present in champagne washes these particles out of the palate with each swig. Pairing champagne to a seafood entrée will ensure that your meal’s great flavors are always being featured. Unless you are a diehard for sweetness, I would recommend steering away from the sweeter varieties and instead opt for a nice brut.
Wine to try; Freixniet Brut- Coming in at about seven bucks a bottle, complementing your next seafood dinner with a great bubbly will impress your guests while not breaking the bank.
One Step Further
These suggestions are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to really flipping the notion of traditional wine pairings on its head. The latest recession in the economy put a new challenge to wine makers and manufacturers across the globe. The current selection out on the wine market today has more diversity and more value than ever before. Sake, a rice wine synonymous with Japanese culture has been making its way into homes across America as a wonderful new replacement to a pinot gris or sauvignon blanc. Perhaps you want to really break the mold? Try a high quality craft-cider beer. Not only are most perfect for those who are gluten intolerant, they are surprisingly great compliment to an oil-based pasta dish.
Selection to try; Angry Orchard Hard Cider- With varieties like apple-ginger to their traditional dry, Angry Orchard has been slowly making a name for itself receiving write-ups in the USA today as well as World Class Beer. A six pack will set you back no less than six bucks so go out and try it for yourself to see what the entire buzz is about.
What about you? What have you been putting on the table lately that challenges tradition? I’d love to hear from you.
A self-professed foodie, Richard Bracke loves to dine at new restaurants and try out new food combinations in attempt to be constantly refining his tastes and palate. Richard currently blogs and writes for EZ Cater who specialize in a wide variety of options for your lunch catering needs.