Pairing wines with foods has an interesting history. Back in the day, food like beef and poultry were cooked in wine. It was one thing to cook a fibrous, chewy cut of beef in red wine, but a fibrous, chewy old hen cooked in red wine came out stained red, a look that was off-putting to many diners. Red wines high in tannins might also have given the chicken a strange taste. So chicken was cooked in and served with white wine. The practice also extended to fish, even though it is perfectly fine to serve seafood in sauce with a light-bodied dry red such as Valpolicella.
Nowadays, people claim that diners can pair any sort of food with any sort of wine. If a person wants to eat chicken with a ruby red, powerful Chambertin, why shouldn’t they? But there are still some rules that go with pairing wine and food. Whether it is the way a specific food and wine come together, or whether it’s all in the diner’s head, some pairings do taste better than others. Here are five tips for pairing wine and food.
1. It’s fine to serve a wine that hasn’t been aged in an oak barrel with ceviche or anything bathed in or brightened with lemon or lime. These are white wines stored in tanks made of stainless steel. They include Sauvignon Blancs and Rieslings, and they have a hint of citrus that goes well with foods that call for lemon or lime juice. There are a few red wines that are unoaked, and they include Barberas, Boroli Dolcetto d’Albas and Grignolinos. Unoaked wines are best when they’re young, so ask the wine shop merchant how old they are before buying.
2. If white meats such as pork or chicken are being cooked in a sauce, the wine should be paired with the sauce. This is to give the dish a boost of flavor, since the flavors of many white meats is subtle. A good pairing would be a Chinon paired with Cornish hens in chives. The hens are made with a veloute sauce, and the Chinon is red, but fruity and light. Another pairing is Filets de sole Remoise and champagne. The fish are actually cooked in a sauce made with champagne, so they are served with the bubbly. For someone who thinks champagne is only for really festive occasions, a nice Chablis or other dry white should suffice.
3. Pair wines with low alcohol content with fiery foods. This might mean it is perfectly allright to pair what’s considered a dessert wine such as Tokay with five alarm chili — someone, somewhere does this — or Liebfraumilch with spicy Cajun shrimp. Tokay is a sweet white wine from the Tokay region of Hungary, and Liebfraumilch, which literally means “young woman’s milk,” is a just slightly dry white from Germany.
4. Use a robust wine with a robust food. This type of pairing may mean a Barbera with game such as venison or rabbit or Burgundy with pot roast. Barbera is made from the grape of the same name that’s grown in California and northern Italy and is known for its big, deep flavor. There are several types of Burgundies, but it’s usually a term for a dry, full-bodied red wine.
5. Another good idea is to pair robust red meats with red wines that are high in tannins. Tannins are polyphenols that are found in many plants. They’re astringent and give wine a dry texture. They are especially plentiful in dry red wines. Pairings that feature a tannin-rich wine may include roast beef, broiled beef, pot roast or barbecued beef with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cotes de Provence, Petit Verdot, Tempranillo or Petite Sirah.