The time is Ancient Greece and you are a philosopher or a poet. You rise with the ancient Greek sun on a bed made of… floor. For breakfast, you enjoy a humble hunk of bread— but your meal is incomplete. It’s dry. It’s hard. The barley just isn’t doing it for you. Parched, you grab the nearest vessel of wine mixed with cooked, fresh grape juice and indulge in what anthropologists now call the earliest recorded evidence of food and wine pairing: you dunk your bread in the wine.
With respect for a creative solution to undrinkable water (diluted wine was the answer to bacteria laden waterways), wine pairing has come a long way since soggy bread and casual day drinking. It would take centuries before food and drink were thought of as distinct categories and our current perception of food and wine pairing really didn’t take hold until the 1980’s in California. We now live in a time where wine from a bodega bought alongside a deli sandwich can be a revelatory experience. From understated to complicated, it’s undeniable that food and wine pairing is having its moment.
So what makes an enjoyable pairing? Why does that unassuming bag of kettle cooked potato chips suddenly over-perform alongside a yeasty, oceanic salt slap of Fino sherry? And how is it that a raw and rugged nub of clothbound cheddar can tame the brawn of a Rutherford “dusted” Cabernet?
The science may be unclear, but the gratification is absolutely there. As we approach the months where many will gather to celebrate, raise a glass, and break some not-so-Ancient-Greek bread, we invite you to play with your pairings. Here are some of our favorites, explained. Some are by the book and others, well, simply just work.
“If it grows together, it goes together”
We might not know who said it first, but this adage has inspired legions of regional pairing. At its core? The idea is to pair food and wines traditionally made in the same area. This is common practice for European countries, who have enjoyed multiple generations of fine, regionally prepared food and wines.
Terlano Pinot Bianco with Spaghetti alla Carbonara. While many areas lay claim to Carbonara, this combination is distinctly Italian.
Domaine de l’Ecu ‘Cuvee Classic’ Muscadet with shellfish dishes from the Loire Valley. Think steamed mussels in an herbaceous butter broth or a light shrimp bisque.
Pair spicy with sweet
This pairing is give and take. If your food is spicy, a sweet wine will provide relief. It helps, too, that many sweeter wines are lower in alcohol and spicier foods will have you reaching for your glass more frequently. Not a fan of sweet wines? Go for a Gewurztraminer.
Pairings to beat the heat:
Try Terlano Gewurztraminer with gai pad krapow (Thai basil chicken with red chilies). Gewurztraminer is one of those rare grapes that plays well with complex aromatics, and its lower acidity is heat friendly.
Gunderloch Riesling Kabinett Jean Baptiste with Nashville hot chicken adds a touch of tropical to this spicy, sweet pairing.
Pair lighter foods with lighter wines & heavier foods with bolder wines
Wine experts will call this ‘weight’ or ‘body’ and this is great starting point for when you’re stumped. As dishes get more complicated, though, this is one of those guidelines that repeatedly gives cause for pause. Sometimes a plate with multiple components will defy the weight rule.
Introducing bubbles, the great galvanizer!
Carbonation has a special place in pairing. Whether its beer, cider or sparkling wine, bubbles can literally do the heavy lifting in your mouth— allowing you to taste more with every bite. It’s why sparkling wines are commonly championed as a pairing with simple, fried eggs. Bubbles work wonders across a variety of dishes, but will also sing with richer foods.
When in doubt, go directly to the source
If you love a wine, chances are the people who made it have already cooked up multiple pairings to do the work for you. Find inspiration on their websites and social channels, or if they cook food on site scout their menu. If you’re dining out, it’s also a great idea to engage with the wine expert. Pairing is the sort of thing that beverage professionals live for.