With some interesting facts, tips and tricks for buying, gifting and sipping, Modern Mississauga’s resident wine expert demystifies the world’s most interesting beverage.
(Mostly) gone are the days of a stuffy, suited Sommelier mumbling his justification for placing three sips of wine in front of you that probably cost more than your steak. Tasting menus are still around, and these curated pairings in Ontario’s top restaurants are often fantastic. But more and more, the mantra: "Eat what you feel like and drink what you feel like with it," is touted as a contemporary approach to food matching. The Tuesday night matrimony of bottle and plate is usually an arbitrary affair of convenience or chance but most of these matches are just not that bad together. That said, pairing is an old art form and at its best can transform flavours and textures of both food and wine creating an experience far beyond the sum of its parts. Admittedly, this is rare and difficult to do outside a restaurant setting where a Chef and Sommelier are working together with a common goal.
Thankfully, there are a few easy rules to follow that can make a big difference at your dinner table. The first of these is also the one most often forgotten: don’t pair with protein. Red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat just doesn’t work, especially if there’s no meat in the dish! The sauce and the cooking method are much more likely to influence the flavour profile and consequently, the ideal wine match. Grilling usually adds the most dominant flavours and poaching the most delicate, while the same chicken breast served with tomato sauce, vindaloo or lemon aioli are very different situations.
Try to match power with power and weight with weight. Intensely flavoured dishes need a more intensely flavoured with to stand up to it. Taste the way Gewürztraminer shines through yellow curry or that rich, buttery Chardonnay matches that rich butter chicken. Since both dishes can sometimes be a little spicy, a wine with a touch of sweetness can take the edge off of that burn, too.
With red meat (take your sauce and cooking method into consideration first), we generally want to match rarer meat with more tannin. That’s the drying sensation you get from red wines like Cabernet Sauvignon, Barolo, Brunello etc. The more well-done the meat, like in a roast or slow-cooker, the less tannin you want: perhaps a Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or Syrah/Shiraz. And while we’re on the subject of tannin: this is the stuff that really clashes with seafood of any kind. Tannins make your fish taste like pennies, or when you bite down on your fork. That’s why red wine is best avoided, or carefull select a low-tannin option for your next sea-based meal.
And as your evening comes to a close and you put dessert on the table, don’t hesitate to serve wine with it. But make sure the wine is sweeter than the dish – otherwise your sugary tarte will make the wine taste like lemon juice. Try a Tokaj with your next pie. (That rhymes in case you’re not sure how to pronounce the wine. It’s an amazing dessert option from Hungary).
These tips are a great start and if you’re loving this idea, pick up Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies. But if you’re standing in the LCBO and are starting to panic, do what any modern problem solver would do: just Google it.
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Tim Reed Manessy [Sommelier CAPS, CMS] is a wine instructor at George Brown College, restaurant consultant, private & corporate event specialist and really annoying at a dinner party.