Thoughts on ‘Pairing Wine and Food’

Salmon & Wines | The Dinner Party Collective

Written by Anatoli (of Talk-a-Vino)

The Dinner Party Collective started a few months ago by Margot (of Gather and Graze), as an attempt to reinforce the Art of Food Together as one of the best forms of human interaction. The result is a complete menu which you can enjoy cooking and serving to your guests and family – but in essence, there is a lot more here. We (TDPC crowd) want to offer you more than just a menu you can cook. We want to make your meal an experience. How? By going to the next step and pairing food with wine. Food is definitely a centerpiece of a meal experience, but the addition of wine takes it to the next level. Something which we call a “food and wine pairing”, when done successfully, creates a heavenly combination out of the bite of food in your mouth and a sip of that liquid from the glass – and this is exactly what we want you to experience.

So as one of your virtual sommeliers, I have the challenging task in front of me, to offer you sensible ideas regarding possible wines to create that “heavenly experience” mentioned above. What is so challenging, you ask? You think I’m just trying to exaggerate my worth? Well, let’s look at the task at hand (food and wine pairing) a bit closer.

First, there is simply a “technical” part. The wine should “work” with food to enhance the overall experience. There are two options here – wine should either contrast (think “Port and Stilton cheese”) or complement (think “Beef Bourguignon with Burgundy wine”) the food. When we create the pairing as a contrast, it is usually based on one flavor canceling the other – sweetness of Port in our example helps to soften the sharp acidity and salinity of the Stilton cheese, thus creating new level of pleasure. When we pair to complement, the addition of the wine usually makes the bite of food more nuanced, thus again increasing the pleasure. The more flavors used in the dish, the more difficult the pairing becomes, but it is still possible to find a winning combination in the majority of cases.

A couple of hurdles for us to overcome – to be absolutely honest, I’m doing the pairings for our TDPC menu as a “virtual” exercise, based on an understanding of the flavors in the recipe, so we can definitely count this as a culprit number one. But – sorry for not being too modest – I solved this problem successfully many times in the past, so this is not what makes the pairing task so very difficult.

The next hurdle, which is a lot bigger, can be expressed with one simple word – “availability”. The wines I recommend will have to be available for you no matter where you are. The hope is that people in different corners of the world will be following TDPC advice and creating these menus for their dinner parties. Therefore, I can’t just take an arbitrary wine from Napa Valley in California, produced in the quantity of 300 cases, and make it my top recommendation. I need to recommend a style of wine which I think will work with the dish, and then recommend some particular examples of some producers which I think would be most representative of the style I’m recommending. To give you an example, I can recommend a Central Otago Pinot Noir as my choice of the style of wine, and then suggest Amisfield and Elephant Hill Pinot Noir as recommended producers. I also need to make a few different regional recommendations, with the focus on audiences in different parts of the world, so extending the recommendation I already made with the Central Otago Pinot, I can also include Burgundy and Oregon to cover all three major regions. Of course there always will be exceptions – for instance, if you are in Portugal, the only wines which are readily available to you are Portuguese wines, so none of the US or Australian wine recommendations will matter too much… Well, 80/20 rule to the rescue.

Also there is one further part to the topic of availability – when we say the wine will be available to you, that also implies that the wine should be affordable. Of course the idea of affordability is different for each person, but I’m not going to recommend $200-$300 bottles of wines as the norm, even if I would think that such a wine would create the best pairing. Affordability is important and definitely a part of these recommendations. If a $5 wine will be the best pairing – more power to all of us, and I will be glad to be the first to offer such a wine to you.

I hope this helps to give an understanding of what we are planning to do here and how we are going to go about food and wine. Let me leave you here with this newly acquired knowledge, and let me start working on melding some flavors together. Cheers!

25 thoughts on “Thoughts on ‘Pairing Wine and Food’

  1. polianthus

    HI Anatoli – I forgive you for not being modest – I really do – so no 200 dollar wines, wise choice 🙂 although pricing is so different world over isn’t it, depending on market size and availability for us in Europe I would guess European wines will be cheaper than the same wine in the states, but of course it’s not all about the money 🙂 – so high priced is out, obscure is out, not an easy task. Some wine magazines post 2 recommendations a splurge wine and a steal wine – more work for you maybe but might be interesting to consider on the pricing – that way you can also cover 6 countries instead of only 3! More work for you though….there are some amazing Portuguese wines as I know you know, there are some amazing Spanish wines, some extremely nice Turkish wines, which sadly I have never found outside of Turkey, unsurprisingly as nobody expects a muslim country to produce good wine, so it would be wonderful to see that diversity reflected in the wine pairings – cannot wait to read more

    • talkavino

      I hope the suggested pairings provided enough diversity, Poli 🙂 I will recommend specific wines when possible, but I would still avoid pitching a wine which nobody else will ever be able to find…

  2. apuginthekitchen

    There are so many intricate details that go into a wine pairing, we who are the recipients of the perfect pairing need to remember just how daunting a task it can be. You have explained it so well and that is why we look to experts like you and Stefano and our other dear wine friends to help us make our meal a total sensory and pallate pleasing experience, Thank you.

    • talkavino

      Michelle, thank you – you’re too kind. I don’t know how well the pairings will work, but I really hope people will at least find them interesting and thought provoking.

  3. StefanGourmet

    Interesting post. I’m looking forward to your recommendations. On my blog I also provide ‘style’ wine pairing recommendations, because globally available wines are often not the best ones.
    I agree with Sandra that the ‘weight’ of the wine is also important.
    For me the best pairings often mean that the food will bring out new pleasant flavors in the wine and vice versa. Unfortunately, even at famous expensive restaurants with three Michelin stars this is more the exception than the rule. In some cases we even discovered that an outstanding pairing was made by accident.
    It sounds like my pairing technique is similar to yours: I match the databases of wine and food flavor profiles that reside in my head.

    • talkavino

      Will be definitely curious to see your assessment on the pairings. I think you will find some recommendations rather unorthodox 🙂
      Regarding successful pairings – we often do wine dinners with the friends where we take a restaurant tasting menu and bring our wines to pair with different dishes. Our rate of success is typically 5 out of 6 – but this is also a bit of a different setting… It should be fun!

  4. Francesca

    Great, great post, Anatoli! I really look forward to reading your champagne and white wine recommendations. You always open the door to new tastes and scents. I still remember that delicious Russian champagne and its gorgeously decorated bottle.
    F. Xx

  5. ladyredspecs

    Great post Anatoli, I look forward to seeing your matches for the first set of TDPC menus. I’ve done a little food and wine matching over the years. Iconic Australian winemaker Max Lake, an American by birth wrote a brilliant little book called Food on the Plate, Wine in the Glass in the early 90s which helped me gain an enormous understanding of the weight of flavours. It was a helpful resource as both a cook and a wine lover.

    • talkavino

      Now you put me in the tough spot, Sandra. I wouldn’t be able to compete with the book – I go more by my memory bank of various wine flavor profiles and food flavor profile based on the description. Weight of flavors will be the whole next level of the game, so I’m not sure how well I do with the pairing – but you will tell me 🙂

  6. talkavino

    Reblogged this on Talk-A-Vino and commented:

    Here is the post which I wrote for the new interesting project I’m involved in. We (The Dinner Party Collective crowd) want to recreate the Art of “food together” by offering complete seasonal menus which people around the world can use to bring friends and families around the dinner table. Where there is food, there should be wine, and the wine should “work” with food. Here are some thoughts on making food and wine work together. Enjoy (and share your thoughts)!

    • talkavino

      Of course! Not necessarily for the pairing itself, but at least as a starter. Sparkling wine and food can be created, but it is rather an opposite process compare to the standard food and wine. You need to start from sparkling wine, and then think of the food which will match it. At least in my opinion 🙂

  7. Anne Wheaton

    This sounds really interesting and will be a vast improvement on my normal – look on the shelf in the cellar and grab the first bottle. Just wines or might you suggest beers sometimes if appropriate?

    • talkavino

      Beer dinners are the rave currently in the US – very popular. However, for myself specifically, I would always prefer wine… I’m not enough of the beer connoisseur to be able to offer a sensible beer pairing, may be outside of the burgers and hot dogs 🙂

  8. tinywhitecottage

    You certainly make a difficult task seem do-able. This is exciting! I’m looking forward to learning more about wine pairing from you Anatoli. I really appreciate your approach of considering availability in different parts of the world. This will be very helpful. Here’s to “newly acquired knowledge”! Cheers. Seana

    • talkavino

      Thanks, Seana. As we are in the virtual setting, and our restaurant is a whole world, it is important to have the options which are **available** to the people no matter where they are. Hopefully you will like the suggested pairings, and I can’t wait to hear what would be the exact wines you will use at your dinner. Cheers!

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