My introduction to wine was through food. I’ve always delighted in trying a glass of something new to me alongside a restaurant spread, or tasting how a different glass of wine can liven up a familiar dish at home. The relationship between bottle and plate can be playful, transportive or both.
That’s why it didn’t occur to me until I started working in the wine world in earnest that the phrase “food friendly” could be anything but the highest of praise.
I quickly figured out, though, that the term is often reserved for wines that are light in body and alcohol, high in acid, perfectly fine, but—sorry, honey—just not quite interesting or complex enough to stand on their own. It’s a phrase used for wines that are meant to be back-up singers.
That’s just not fair.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t often eat foods that are simple or one-note. I layer in flavors when I cook and seek dishes with unexpected combinations when I order out. And I look for wines that can keep up. If I simply wanted something wet with a splash of acid to cleanse my palate between bites, water with a twist of lemon would do just fine.
It’s worth noting here that many, if not most, winemakers I’ve spoken to in the last year or so have talked about a shift toward wines that are more food friendly. They use the phrase in tandem with some other descriptors: finesse, freshness, brightness. It’s true that wines with those qualities are easier to pair, their textural qualities less obtrusive into a meal (and that I happen to enjoy wines with those characteristics, whether I’m pairing them or not). But I think that’s a pretty narrow view of what pairs well.
If I simply wanted something wet with a splash of acid to cleanse my palate between bites, water with a twist of lemon would do just fine.
When I read the reviews in this very magazine that talk about different herbs and fruits, savoriness, gaminess or salinity, my mind immediately goes to other flavors with which those notes would work well. And then I think about how I can tie all of those elements together for dinner. In this way, many excellent wines of varying styles and prices become “food friendly.”
My hope is that as more serious winemakers make food-friendliness a consideration, and as more people from the food world, like me, become immersed in the wine scene, this stigma that food friendly equals simple will begin to fade. As so many of us are cooking more meals at home, day in and day out, being bold with pairing choices is a way to shake things up. Once you realize that every bottle in your cellar will be friendly to the right food, dinner gets a whole lot more exciting.