It is common knowledge that wine and food go together like peas and carrots, bad pun intended. There are millions of combinations that match perfectly the style, flavors and weight of both the libation and sustenance. There are even combinations that couldn’t possibly be more opposite yet couldn’t possibly work better together. The options are as limitless as the various kinds of food and wine. But through this universe of digestive delights a few pairings shine like supernovas of gastronomy. These are the classics. The pairings that achieve the heights of marriage between food and wine. These are the perfect examples of the symbiotic relationship between the joys of eating and the dreams of drinking.
Let’s start with just a quick word on pairings. Matching food and wine is as easy as drinking what you like with what you like to eat. There are, however, many foods and wines that when paired together can bring out the sublime qualities of both. There are no hard and fast rules such as white wine with fish and red with steak, but finding a great match can be easy if you follow a few simple guidelines.
Champagne and Caviar
This may sound like some rich guy somewhere decided that if you have one thing that is expensive it has to go with another expensive thing, but there is actually quite a bit of logic behind it. The full body and bone-dry finish of a quality Champagne is one of the true delights that can stand up to the complex oily, fishy and salty flavors of caviar.
Chablis and Oysters
Some of the same principles in the match of Champagne and caviar apply here, but we add to this a delicate textural element. Chablis is known for a full and somewhat chalky mouth-feel due to the limestone soils in which it flourishes. This pairs wonderfully with creamy and salty raw oysters. The citrus fruits in the Chablis will also make a mouth water. Deelish!
Pinot Grigio and Parma Prosciutto
Only the best Pinot Grigios will do, but wow! What a combo! The melon flavors and creamy texture of the Grigio work beautifully with the richness of the ham.
Sauternes or Tokaji with Foie Gras
Quite possibly the greatest of all food and wine pairings. Only something so sumptuous as the foie gras will find balance with the heavy wines created from the “Noblest” of molds, Botrytis cinerea. Rich with Rich. Full with full. Salty and savory with sweet. Heaven with Heaven.
Fino Sherry with Lobster Bisque or Consommè
One of the greatest and easiest ways to find a successful food and wine pairing is to ask “Is there any wine in the dish?” The flavors used in the preparation will ultimately be excellent choices when selecting a wine, and if the wine is already in the dish how easy is that? In this case the sherry is used in the production of the consommè and is therefore a lovely choice.
Classical food and wine pairings often reflect regional specialties. The reason being that cuisine and wine are living and breathing things that evolve over time. Areas that have produced wine for centuries have developed styles of cooking that best match the wines that they create and vice versa. When in doubt with a wine pairing look to the region that your food is from, and select a wine from there. Chances are that it will be right on target.
Muscadet with the Fruits of the Sea
A perfect example of how one regional specialty pairs wonderfully with another. The crisp and fruity Muscadet is light and lively enough to compliment but not overpower fresh shellfish and seafood. What better way to enjoy an afternoon by the sea can there be?
Pinot Noir with Duck
Silky and smooth, a fine Pinot can offer the best and most refined red fruit flavors on the planet. The richness of the duck can be a touch too much for a lesser wine, but a hearty Pommard will cut through the fatty flavors and enhance the best the bird has to offer.
Bordeaux and Lamb
Another of the greatest and most traditional of pairings, lamb and Bordeaux have graced many a palette over the centuries. The meat can be delicate, intense, earthy, gamey and finessed all at once- just like a fine Bordeaux.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Strip Steak au Poivre
You may have heard of this pairing before, but do you know why it is so delicious? The proteins of the steak soften the hard and fiery tannins of the Cabernet, thus drawing out the fruit and complex flavors. The heavy tannins of the wine provide a backbone hearty enough to stand with the peppercorns and intense flavors of the steak. As long as there is a good steak to be had there will be a good Cabernet to go along with it.
Pedro Ximénez Sherry and Vanilla Ice Cream
So delicious is the pairing of the sweet and spicy Pedro Ximénez and vanilla ice cream that a common dessert in the south of Spain is simply a bowl of vanilla with the sherry poured over the top. The complex caramel, coffee and orange peel flavors of the sherry are an excellent match with just plain old vanilla.
Sauternes and Crème Brûlée
Delicious, creamy and rich. Was I talking about the wine or the dessert? Both, actually. The Sauternes adds elements of tropical fruits to the unctuous brûlée.
Vintage Port and Dark Chocolate
The combination here could be classified as dessert, but if you were stranded on a deserted isle and could only have one thing to sustain you for the rest of your days this wouldn’t be a bad way to go. The tannins in the port and the bitterness of the dark chocolate actually tame each other and allow more of the endless fruit to shine through.
Hey, what about the cheese course, you say? We shall save that for next time as the pairing of wine and cheese is a subject too large and diverse to condense into just a few paragraphs. It deserves its own treatise. It’s just that good.
Any and all of these pairings would make a wonderful addition to you and your dinner table. Each has passed the test of time and achieved immortality in the dining world. How to choose one over the other may be the hardest part, but whichever way you end up your taste buds will surely be happy. Good eating!