Food & Wine Pairing: The Ace Up Your Sleeve

I think that one of the points many wine writers and sommeliers really like to drive home is that people worry way too much about perfecting the art of food and wine pairing. Truth is, the anxiety of knowing The Rules about pairing is unnecessary as those rules are non-existent. Hey, if you like the way a wine and dish pair together, then that’s a great pairing! Sure, there are some general guidelines that may take the guesswork out of a pairing’s outcome, but nothing’s ever set in stone. In saying that, there’s a very general train of thought I was told one time that’s stuck with me for years. Sure, there’s much to say about how acidity is great to cut through fattiness, how tannins can clash with fish, and assorted other pieces of wisdom that are always lobbed around. Don’t get me wrong, they’re totally, totally valid points of reference, but I always come back to the same philosophy.

That thought is this. If a wine’s flavours were the actual food you’re referencing, just think about whether you would enjoy that food as a component of your dish. Let’s illustrate some examples.

Let’s say you have some fresh oysters in the half shell with a cucumber mignonette. Now, someone offers two excellent wines for you to have with them. You can have Painted Rock 2012 Syrah, which has some rich and lovely toasty vanilla, dark berry fruit, cardamom, pepper and mocha flavours, or you can have Creekside’s 2012 Sauvignon Blanc, bright with fresh acidity, citrus and melon notes. When you think of what you’d rather put on those oysters, chocolate or lemon, the choice becomes pretty clear, right?

Let’s flip it around. You have a Braised Chicken with Oaxacan Chocolate Mole Sauce. Decadent and delicious. You have the same two wine options. Would you start squeezing lemons and adding honeydew to that dish, or would you be more likely to bump up the cocoa and pepper notes? Again, it becomes pretty easy.

And no, this philosophy isn’t bulletproof but if you need an ace up your sleeve, I think it should help you come out a winner.


Kurtis Kolt is a Vancouver-based wine consultant, writer, competition judge and enthusiast. He’s not half as fancy/boring as that sounds. He Tweets and Instagrams @KurtisKolt.

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