Pairing wine with food

Last week, I was at a wine and beer taste-off at the Mill Street Brew Pub. About 60 people paid for a four-course meal, each course paired with a beer (Mill Street, of course) and a wine (from Niagara’s excellent 13th Street Winery). People voted after each pairing, and the final result was a victory for the wine. I was there to help lead the cheering for wine, but in a couple of cases I thought the beer was as good, or almost as good, a partner to the food.

It was all good fun, which is how wine and food pairing should be, and the event brought into focus the sheer stupidity of so much that passes for matching food with wine. It’s become a business for many wine “professionals,” who shill their books, guides and apps, and profit from the gullibility of people who believe that they need help choosing a wine to go with smoked salmon, a pork chop or a chicken sandwich.

A few years ago, I was in San Francisco and bought a vintage (used) tie. On the little tag that usually says, “100-per-cent silk. Made in Italy” (no matter what it’s made from or where it’s made), this one says, “Wear with brown or grey suit.” Whenever I tell people that or show someone the tag, they laugh. What could be more stupid that telling someone what colour suit to wear with a tie?

That’s right. We get up each morning and confidently match our clothes. And, for the most part, we do pretty well. Sure, some people look very smart, most people look fine, and now and again you wonder if someone got dressed in the dark. But we do it confidently, without an app to help us.

Matching wine with food is like that. We don’t dress randomly and we wouldn’t pick a wine randomly. We have a sense of what goes with what.

If it’s amazing, great. If it’s just OK, then we’ve learned something.

But it’s rare to get a pairing that’s so horrible, you just can’t stomach the food with the wine (or vice versa).

The other point the beer and food pairing showed is that no matter what’s on the plate, it’s what goes into your mouth that matters. I watched someone take three mouthfuls of one course: first, meat alone; second, potato, meat and sauce; third, carrot alone. Same dish, three totally different sets of flavours. How do you pair wine (or beer) with that?

In the end, pairing wine and food should be fun and experimental. It’s what works for you that counts. Ignore the sheer inanity of the books and apps, and enjoy what you eat and drink!

Henry of Pelham Riesling 2010

This dry riesling from Niagara is packed with delicious, fresh flavours, complemented by a mouth-filling and zesty texture. It’s a good choice for sipping on the deck or before dinner, and also excellent with fish, seafood, chicken, or pork dishes. 11.5-per-cent alcohol; $13.95 (268375)

Yalumba “Y Series” Shiraz/Viognier 2009

The aromas and flavours of this South Australian syrah (with a dash of viognier to lift the flavours and add to the complexity) are lovely and layered, while the texture is smooth, rich and tangy. It’s an excellent choice for grilled lamb chops. 13.5-per-cent alcohol; $15.05 (624494)

Torres “Gran Coronas” Reserva Cabernet Sauvignon 2006

From Spain’s Penedes region, this blend (it has 15-per-cent tempranillo) shows ripe, layered, and concentrated fruit, and a generous and tangy texture. It’s full-bodied with good tannic grip, and is ideal for grilled or braised red meats. 14-per-cent alcohol; $18.95 (36483, Vintages Essential)

Dorlan VS “Fine Champagne” Cognac

From the two most prestigious areas of the Cognac region (that’s the meaning of “Fine Champagne”), this delivers a lot of complexity for a young cognac. Look for a smooth, almost unctuous texture, with good balance and a warm, soft burn. 40-per-cent alcohol; $33.80 (895185)

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