by Ellen Brittan, Director of Wine Education at Linfield College and owner of Brittan Vineyards
The holidays are stressful enough without worrying about getting your food and wine pairings perfect. The good news is that there are not as many hard and fast rules as you think, and the majority of the time, most wines go fairly well with most foods. So what’s all the fuss about? Well, there are some guidelines that will make your holiday dining more enjoyable, as well as some tips on how to avoid some combinations that will detract from your appreciation of a well-prepared meal and a well-made wine.
The best tip for a good pairing is to pay attention to how a dish is prepared. We’ve all heard that “white wine goes with fish and poultry and red wine goes with meat”. For the most part this is a reliable place to start, but what is more important than what you are having, say a chicken breast for example, is the way that chicken breast is prepared and what else is in the dish. A simple grilled chicken breast will be delicious with almost any white, rose or light red wine, as the wine will be there to enhance the simple flavors of the chicken. But if you are having a chicken breast in a mushroom, shallot cream sauce, then you will want to select a wine that has a fairly high acid profile, like a chardonnay or a riesling to cut the richness of the dish and cleanse your palate after a bite of cream sauce. The same principle applies to red meat, how the dish is prepared and what the key flavors and ingredients are is more important than whether you are having beef or lamb.
The few really bad pairings are easy to avoid. The first is when a wine is too heavy and overpowering for the food. A great example would be a beautiful filet of sole in a light lemon butter sauce paired with a big, oaky tannic cabernet sauvignon or syrah. In this case the wine is going to overwhelm the delicate flavor of the fish. Another example is when the wine is too delicate for the food. An example would be a hearty steak or chop with a rich, spicy sauce paired with a very delicate white wine, where the food completely masks the nuances of the wine. That said; if you like cabernet with your fish or a light pinot gris with a grilled rib eye steak, go for it. It may not be the best pairing but I have always found that the most important part of the meal is the people with whom you share it. Enjoy good food and wine with family and friends – that is always the perfect pairing.