Wine and Food Pairing

Trust your mouth. You know what you like; enjoy it

So says Jeffrey Saad, 25-year food industry veteran and restaurateur. I recently returned from a Wine Bloggers Conference where I had the great pleasure of seeing this dynamic personality give a presentation on food and wine pairing. The following video will teach you more about pairing wine and food.

Now, back to Jeffrey. He asked us who in the audience would pair a Coke with pizza so that he could make a point about why the combination works together. A big laugh came from the crowd when not even one hand went up and he mused, “Wow, you guys really are a bunch of winos!”

Key pointers:

  • Pair acid with acid, such as salad with vinaigrette paired with Grüner Veltliner.
  • Pair fat in food with acid in wine, such as goat cheese in buttery phyllo cups with Argentine Torrontes.
  • Pair protein or animal fat with tannin such as Kobe beef with Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Pair sweet with sweet. Sweet food spanks the fruit right out of the wine if the wine isn’t as sweet.
  • Pair spice with sweetness. Spice does not like tannin; it accentuates it.
  • Make funky ingredients a part of a dish, not the main flavor.

Three Wines That Are Safe Bets

Dry Rosé – It has just enough acidity to pair with salads, enough fruit to match with spicy foods, and just enough tannin to pair with meat. Check out also this post about the problems regarding wine bottle closure.

Champagne – It works because it’s low in alcohol so it doesn’t get in the way of salt. It’s off-dry, and its touch of sweetness helps it work with a wide array of food.

Barbera – It has lots of acidity and bright fruit, so it works with many foods.

When I asked Jeffrey what suggestions he has for vegetarian food and wine pairings he offered the following:

  • mushrooms with Pinot Noir,
  • artichokes with Grüner Veltliner, and
  • roasted bell peppers with Cabernet Sauvignon.

Jeffrey’s sage advice: With food and wine pairing, just stop. Listen to your food. Listen to your wine. Ask yourself, why is this good together? Is it the acid? Is it the tannin? Learn from that.

Red Wine and Cheese Pairing

Imagine eating 20 different cheese dishes, each paired with a wine, over the course of 3 hours. For students in the Cheese and Wine Pairing class at Northwest Wine Academy, this is how we spent our last class. Each student’s wine and cheese pairing presented to class is part of that person’s grade and they also examined the organic and very tasteful wines produced by Valentino Vineyards in Suburban Chicago.

There were some pretty creative preparations, too. In fact, this was the first time I’ve been served cheesy grits. Even if I had tasted them before, I don’t know that it would have occurred to me to serve them with Semillon. One of the bolder pairings of the evening was a blue cheese fondue. Listen to Gerald Morgan Jr, a well-known sommelier at a fine Dallas, Texas, wine shop explain more on the topic:

Even though each serving was delivered in a small ramekin, it was full of big flavor and paired with a big Washington red wine to boot. One of the students (he actually dreams about owning his own wine farm later in life) even went to the effort of preparing cheese soufflés. As a memorable way to wrap up class, the final pairing of the night was blue cheese ice cream served with a Sauternes.

The Big Cheese

After much experimentation, I decided to serve Pesto Risotto, a dish that has cheese in it as an accent ingredient rather than a primary ingredient. It is easy to prepare in advance, easy to transport, and pairs well with red wine. I made the same style of risotto that I did for Roger’s birthday dinner and substituted the Parmigiano with Estrella Family Creamery‘s Valentina cheese.

The creamery is based here in Washington, and the cheeses are made with milk from animals grazed in organically maintained pastures. Valentina is a raw cow’s milk cheese produced in a washed rind Gruyere style. If you live in Seattle, you can buy it directly from the producers at the Ballard Farmers Market. It is also available from the nice folks at the Cheese Cellar. More on Walla Walla area wines can be found in this post.

The Wine Pairing

Although most of the presentations in class included white wine, I went with a red. After all, pairing red wine with cheese can be trickier and I like a challenge. Following our last visit to Oregon, we came home with a case of Tyrus Evan wine. In an ongoing effort to introduce more people to this line of wines made by Ken Wright, I selected the Tyrus Evan 2016 Ciel du Cheval Claret to serve with the risotto. If you see it in your wine shop, I encourage you to give it a try.