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Wedding Wine & Food

By Debra Meiburg MW

The rule of law might prevail in Hong Kong, but when it comes to matching food and wine, we have to rely on rule of thumb. That wine enhances food – and food enhances wine – is a truism, but even that rule has exceptions. Artichokes, asparagus, eggs and salads all pose difficulties in wine matching.

Tradition dictates that white wine is served with white meats and red wine with red meats. This classic wine matching “rule” was born in northern Europe where red meats, such as braised ox, roasted venison and hare, are richly flavored due to long cooking times and concentrated accompaniments. Most white meats were prepared by simple roasting or grilling. So why, then is coq au vin, a tasty chicken dish, prepared by stewing chicken in red wine? And why is grilled Salmon excellent with light red wines?http://debramasterofwine.com/wordpress/wp-admin/media-new.php

If the thought of the world devolving into wine-matching anarchy keeps you awake at night, then focus on the following factors to help you make a wine selection: weight, acidity, texture and sweetness.

While color matching is credible, weight considerations should take precedence over color. I’m referring to perceived wine and food weight – not that of you or your guest. Delicately poached chicken – a light dish — would be massacred by a heavy, buttery Chardonnay. Instead the bird is better complimented by a crisp rosé or a light pinot noir. On the other end of the weight spectrum, foie gras is classically matched with heavy-bodied wines and sometimes even a weighty sweet wine. The trick — which might require review of primary school geography — is to know that warm climates produce heavy-bodied wines whereas cooler climates produce light-bodied wines.

Wines from cool climates are also acidic and acidity, or sourness, is another consideration in food and wine matching. White wines are typically more acidic than red wines, and are best served with simple dishes that can handle tart accents. Try to visualize whether your dish would be enhanced by a squirt of lemon juice and/or vinegar. If so, then a crisp white wine from a cool climate is a good match.

Salads pose a challenge because there is already substantial lemon or vinegar in the dressing, which can make wines seem dull. The solution is to stick with tart wines from very cool climates, such as Chablis, champagne or vivid sauvignon blanc from New Zealand. Or, try the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” approach: use the wine itself in preparing your dressing. It is no accident that cooks in France, which is abundantly stocked with tart wines, use relatively little acidity in salad dressings.

Tart red wines are soulmates with acidic tomato. Try pinot noir, beaujolais or Valpolicella and Bardolino from Italy’s chilly northern borders. Most other red wines, which are high in tannins, taste best served with heavily textured foods, so partner steak with a young cabernet sauvignon, Rhone Valley syrah, Italian Barolo or Argentinian malbec. Otherwise, avoid mouth-coating foods such as oily fish and eggs, which might affect your taste perception, and be cautious with cheeses as many are too pungent or fatty-textured for fine or mature red wine. Sweet wines, whether fortified or not, are more easily flattered by the savory, salty nature of cheese and are less overwhelmed by it than, say, a mature red Bordeaux.

Never pair dry wines (non-sweet) with sweet dishes. Only sweet, full-bodied wines, like Barsac or Sauternes, can stand up to a dessert. Chocolate can be paired with port wines, but why bother? Sweet wine is a delicious glass of dessert in its own right and is best served solo.

What are the most important rules? Pair wine with people, not food. Keep their glasses full. Surely those rules could be written into the Basic Law.

Comments 7 Comments for “Wedding Wine & Food”
  1. Charles Metcalfe on 09.02.11 at 02:01

    I quite agree, Debra! Said exactly the same thing at a wine & food matching masterclass in Oxford last weekend.
    And your ‘perceived wine and food weight’ quip made me chortle!

  2. Debra Meiburg MW on 09.02.11 at 06:52

    Charles, so lovely to hear from you! Huge hugs!

  3. Terrence Chisholm on 09.03.11 at 21:50

    Thank you for this correct, but very approachable look at food and wine.

  4. Richard Warland on 09.04.11 at 22:58

    Great Debra!

    At last some practical advice that aschews romanticism.

    I have for so long dispaired at statements along the lines of “the wine of this region is made to complement the food of the region” …

    Bah humbug!!!!

  5. Debra Meiburg MW on 09.05.11 at 07:07

    Thanks for the laugh, Richard!

  6. Debra Meiburg MW on 09.05.11 at 07:13

    Can’t believe no one has commented on this wedding photo (my husband and I in 2001).

  7. Cyril Lam on 12.01.11 at 10:59

    Couple of interesting proactive discoveries for wine matching/pairing from recent outings:

    – 10 years+ German riesling kabinett with authentic Thai food in Bangkok (admittedly at the Mandarin)
    – 20 year-old Chateauneuf-du-Pape blanc with cantonese slow-fried salted fish as an appitiser

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