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!