Pairing Myths Debunked

Only white wines pair well with seafood.
People still seem to choose a white wine when they’re having fish – and for that matter a red wine when they’re having steak. Even with popular books like Red Wine with Fish, we still slave under the misconception that it’s the main ingredient that determines the wine. In fact, it’s the accents in the dish that drive the flavor. So sauce and spices, or garlic and green herbs often drive the dish toward—or away from—the “obvious” wine. For example, a blackened fish would taste better paired with a rich Cabernet Franc or a sinewy Sangiovese than with a white wine.

Nothing goes with asparagus, artichoke, endive, Brussels sprouts, and salad dressing.
This is a broad indictment of items often featured on a menu, so don’t buy into it. The simplest one to disprove is pairing with salad dressing. If it’s a vinegar-based dressing, rely on Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio; if it’s a cream-based dressing, turn to a bigger wine like a Chardonnay or Marsanne. Viognier stands up well to artichokes and endive, and Pinot Gris works with asparagus. Brussels sprouts? Most people doctor them so much to mask the flavor that the sauce dominates. If not, go with a Chenin Blanc or Riesling. (ALSO SEE: a recipe for shaved brussels sprouts salad with brown butter vinaigrette.)

Acidic foods with vinegar or lime ramp up the acidity in wine.
Actually, acidity in the dish usually reduces the apparent acidity in the wine, softening its approach and broadening the palate impression. The irony is sometimes explained by competition between the two flavors—that is, the food overwhelms and blunts the acidity in the wine—and sometimes explained more technically as the taste buds adjust to the higher set point.

Serve the expensive wine; cook with a cheaper version of the same.
It’s never fun to pour a $50 wine into the saucepot, but the dish tastes like the wine. If you use a cheap wine, it’ll taste like it. Compromise a bit and use a decent, though perhaps not high-dollar wine in the sauce. Two key rules: Always choose the same type of wine for the sauce as for the table, and NEVER cook with cooking wine.

Serve dessert wines with dessert.
Dessert wines are called that not because they should be served with dessert, but because they can stand in place of the dessert. In fact, the world’s most famous sweet wines go best with non-sweet dishes. Think about the classic pairings of Sauternes and Roquefort cheese, Jurancon and cheddar cheese, late harvest Riesling and blue cheese, or Sherry and smoked salmon.

Spicy wines go with spicy food.
Coupling spicy wines like red Zinfandel, Argentine Malbec, or Australian Shiraz with hot and spicy food could just push the Scoville units through the roof—of your mouth! Spicy food cuts through the sweetness in wine, so serve a Gewürztraminer or Riesling with Asian food, or a white Zin or Chenin Blanc with Mexican food.

Published on May 19, 2010
Topics: Pairing Tips