Wine Pairing (Part Four - Challenges)

In our previous three updates, we looked at the basics of food and wine pairing: regionality, weight, and balance. Even if you tried to follow all these ideas, there are still foods that present challenges. In todays' post, we'll look at some of the more unusual pairings.

When I think of challenging foods, my first thought turns to artichokes, asparagus, eggs, chocolate and cheese. But why should artichokes and asparagus create such challenges? Artichokes have two molecules, known as cholorgenic acid and cynarin, which make wine taste bitter, or even sweet. Because it makes wine sweeter, look for more acidic and crisp wines. The vegetal profile of a young Sauvignon Blanc should work well. But, if we review our first pairing post, and find out that artichokes originated in the Mediterranean, or to be more specific, Greece, then a nice acidic Greek wine might be worth a try. We often think of Greek wines as being dry and hard to drink, so they might just be the perfect choice for a food that will make them taste sweeter.

Asparagus, on the other hand, contains some very strong flavors that often clash with wine (and some noticeable affects to some after consumption...if you know what I mean). Again, match the vegetal components with a vegetal wine (Sauvignon Blanc). For both artichokes and asparagus, can be made more "wine friendly" by adding lemon (acid).

Eggs can also be a little challenging due to the mouth coating affect they have. Think how eggs over-easy, or the texture of a hard boiled egg yolk, coat your mouth. In this case, you'll want to cut (or contrast) the coating affect with some acid. The bubbles of a sparkling wine can also cleanse the palate. Your ultimate decision on which wine to pair will be determined by the preparation and the accompanying ingredients in the dish.

Chocolate, a tough pairing with wine? Yeah, I know wine and chocolate are supposed to be natural partners, just like wine and cheese (which we'll talk about next). While a lot of red wines have chocolate aromas, they tend to be dry, tannic wines. Remember one of our pairing "rules"...make sure your wine is sweeter than your dessert, or else the wine will taste flat. For this reason, bittersweet chocolate works best with wine. I find that Ports and Muscats work nicely with chocolate, but my favorite pairing is Brechetto d'Acqui from Italy (a frizzante style red wine).

Lastly, a quick look a cheese. There are so many cheeses, there is no way to cover them all, but let's consider the types of cheeses. There are fresh, soft, semi-soft, hard, and blue cheeses. On top of that, cheese can be made from cow's, goat's, or sheep's milk - each imparting different flavor profiles. In general, when pairing cheese with wine, think the lighter/ fresher the cheese go with crisp, fruitier wine. Semi soft cheeses move up in weight, as well as mouth coating creaminess, so think acid, but with weight and fruit (this can range from a fruity Sauvignon Blanc to a full bodied Pinot Noir, and everything in between). Hard cheeses tend to be aged longer, and have more distinct flavors. A "rule" to follow here would be, "the stronger the flavor, the bigger the wine" (Merlot to Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon). Blue Cheese can range from mild to strong. Remember to match salt with sweet, so the salter the cheese, the sweeter the wine. Classic pairings are Port with Stilton, and Sauterne with Roquefort

So, what are your food and wine pairing challenges? Add your comments, and we'll walk through some possibilities, and why they should work. As mentioned in the first post in this series...drink what you like, "rules" are made to be broken and in this case are only guidelines to help you out.

10 comments:

  1. Jim, if one were to use a dry sherry as an aperitif, what food would you recommend for it?

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  2. Anne, I am going to assume you are serving a Spanish Sherry (either Fino, Manzanilla, or Amontillado). Traditional pairings would be Almonds, Green Olives, Seafood, Manchego Cheese, Iberico or Serrano Ham, or any traditional Spanish tapas. If it is an aged Sherry, you'll get some nutier flavors, which will go better with aged cheeses and nuts. Try the green olives..it really brings out the fruit in the wine.

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  3. And could you help me with pairing a wine for the Epoisses de Bourgogne that my brother gave me for Christmas? Please assure me that this cheese tastes better than it smells...

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  4. Personally, I love smelly cheese! My first thought is to go with a nice Red Burgundy (that would be Pinot Noir). Reason: the Epoisses de Bourgogne is from the Cote d'Or (the heart of Burgundy). Go regionality first. Because of the pungent nature of the cheese, it might also go well with a Sauterne.

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  5. I'll save some for you. I don't know if I dare bring it to wine club... we'll send most everyone screaming from the room.

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  6. Epoisses flavor profile: Milky, yeasty and tangy when young, developing with age into a complex melange of strong creamy, savory pungent and zesty flavors. Created in the 1500's by the Cistercian monks. Said to be the favorite cheese of Napoleon, and crowned the "king of cheeses"

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  7. We had a dinner of lamb w/ garlic & parsley, greenbeans w/ walnuts, and roasted red potatoes w/ rosemary with a Flying Goat Pinot Noir. The wine tasted great w/ the lamb but as soon as I tasted the vegetables it turned sour to me which ruined the taste of the wine with the rest of the dish. Would it have been the wine that didn't hold up to the meal or something with the vegetables.?

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  8. Was there anything else with the green beans and walnuts (vinaigrette, lemon juice, etc)? Typically, green beans pair best with Sauvignon Blanc due to the vegetal nature of both the wine and food. Sometimes, changing, or adjusting the sauce can make the difference. Interesting that you chose a Pinot Noir with the Lamb. The strong earthy flavors of lamb, as well as the garlic, and rosemary on the potatoes, makes me think Bordeaux, or Meritage...something a bit heavier to hold up with those stronger components. Sometimes (like Thanksgiving dinners) there are so many things going on, it is hard to pair with everything, so go with the predominant flavors.

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  9. There was no vinaigrette or lemon juice with the green beans, only walnut oil but I am thinking that the green beans changed the taste of the wine. Thanks for your complete answer. It helps me to more understand.

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