One of our favorite questions we get from guests is “What do I want to drink with my dinner? I am having…”. We hear everything from pizza (Valpolicella), sushi (Riesling), barbecue (Zinfandel), and shaved asparagus salad with soft poached egg, smoked olive oil and black sea salt (Verdejo).
These decisions are not taken lightly because honestly, the wrong wine can ruin the meal. A perfect pairing can make magical food memories to the simplest of meals. A few years ago, one of our many wine dreams came true and we took a trip together to the tiny town of Quintanamanvirgo in the region of Ribera Del Duero, Spain. It’s the land of high elevation Tempranillo and all the meat you can imagine. Over a fire of the previous year’s grape vines, the producers cooked suckling lamb and sausages as well as potatoes. In this tiny town of 92 people, they make one wine – Torremoron. This Tempranillo sang with this rustic meal.
Just because we aren’t in an episode of “No Reservations,” doesn’t mean we can’t recreate equally memorable experiences at home. When deciding how to pair your food and wine, there is one major thing to consider: the palate of the dish and the palate of the beverage. We use this phrase often in our day-to-day pairing conversations – ‘what grows together goes together’. In other words, what is the origin of the dish – French? Italian? Chinese? American? What wines do they produce? What vegetables or herbs do they grow? That, my friends, is the cheat sheet to food and wine pairings. But of course, there are those instances when you are pairing wines with dishes that are not created in wine growing regions. That’s when the experts really create the magic.
When we think of the palates or flavors of what we are consuming there are several factors and complexity is the first step. Complex food doesn’t need complex drinks. Spicy foods can’t handle spicy wines. Simple dishes, especially raw foods, beg for a fresh clean beverage. White wine pairings tend to have more precision than reds. If butter and cream is involved a well-rounded Chardonnay does the trick. It is all about balance. Acidic foods need to have wines that are not overly acidic. Tannic wines will wreak havoc on foods that have any bitter component, like endive and arugula. Temperature is also something to consider. Cold food and cold wine, but warm food should never be served with overly chilled anything. Try your richer whites after 30 minutes out of the fridge, it does wonders for awaking the nuances of the wine.
We poured a glass of our favorite Albariño and sat down with Kellie Thorn, Atlanta superstar mixologist and beverage educator, to hear her thoughts on the subject at hand. Being deeply involved in the wine world we tend to not consider other libations and Kellie has a passion for finding the right cocktail to pair with just about anything. When pairing with spirits Kellie’s advice is twofold: “Complex food and complex drinks make a clashing of flavors a muddled mess in your brain” and “deconstruct the spirit into the notes that you can construct in the dish.” Think shochu and sushi – notes of saline and fresh herbs compliment the flavors of raw fish. She also notes that frozen VS Cognac and foie gras are “life changing,” a rich and silky dish paired with a fruity and complex spirit.
The edict that what grows together goes together is an even simpler thought. Italy is a perfect example – wines are produced to pair with the food of the region. Campania in southern Italy is home to several white varietals such as Greco di Tufo and Fiano di Avellino, two delicate white wines that pair perfectly with spaghetti and clams or a fresh Caprese salad. Tuscany on the other hand is home to prolific meat-eaters and the grape Sangiovese. Chianti and Bistecca alla Fiorentina is a “chef’s kiss!” When it comes to spirits, the same goes. Kellie’s example is Baijiu, a strong Chinese spirit that has pronounced “microbiological flavors” and Szechuan food. The spiciness of the dish helps to neutralize the strong flavors of the drink.
Whether you are trying to impress your boss or just eating takeout in your living room, finding the perfect libation just might make a lasting memory or transport you into a unique cultural experience.
Katie’s Favorite Pairing
Matthiasson ‘Linda Vista’ Chardonnay and Jumbo Lump Crab Cakes with Shiitake Succotash. Steve Matthiasson is one of my all-time favorite winemakers. His approach to organic farming and hands off winemaking is admirable and should be looked upon as a benchmark. Linda Vista is a single vineyard in Napa Valley and the wine is a perfect balance of cream and tropical fruit that works perfectly with the texture and sweetness of crab meat especially when a touch of butter is involved.
Kellie’s Perfect Pairing
Super stirred, really cold Ford’s Gin martini with a cold seafood tower. If the bartender knows me, the first thing they sit in front of me is a super cold gin martini, straight up with a lemon twist and one single olive dropped into the bottom. The lemon and the subtle bit of salty brine the olive really does enhance the gin’s flavor and also compliments the seafood.
Sarah’s Spicy Pairing
All I have to say is KFC – KoreanFusion Fried Chicken and Cruse Wine Co. Ricci Sparkling St. Laurent from Carneros, California. IYKYK. Seung Hee Lee (aka KoreanFusion) is the mastermind behind the “Slutty Sauce” and the dish that got her name rapidly floating around the Atlanta food scene in 2018, “Slutty Tofu.” Seung Hee expertly coats the perfect amount of her sweet and spicy sauce on crispy bite sized chicken nuggets. Follow a generous bite with a sip of Cruse Wine Co.’s tart and fruity sparkling St. Laurent and you’ll understand the lessons of a true food and wine pairing.