The joys of being 21 and older in San Luis Obispo County include wine, wine, more wine and some beer. We are near 200 wineries in San Luis Obispo County and a handful of delicious microbreweries as well. This gives plenty of reasons to make a few day trips full of wine and beer tasting, but drinking these delightful beverages is just the beginning. The challenge is pairing these alcohols with various meals perfectly.
Wines and beers can add immensely to a dish when properly paired, and there is no better way to get the hang of pairing than trial and error — a little prior reading tends to expedite the process as well.
The variation in the qualities, flavors and characteristics of wines and beers is immense; you could easily read volumes of books on the subject and still not even scratch the surface, but I will attempt to offer a few tips to, hopefully, inspire the artistic culinary adventurer I know is hidden deep inside everyone. As I said before, you need to experiment and create a symphony of flavors for yourself.
The most common pairing combinations seen are white wine with chicken or fish and red wine with heavier meats such as beef and lamb. Pork seems to play the fence and can be successfully paired with whites, and can also stand up to some reds. The theory in these combos is the lighter meats do not overpower the often lighter white wines, while a more full-bodied red wine enhances the richer flavors of some meats that sit a little heavier in your stomach. The rule of light drinks complementing light foods and bold complimenting bold plays out well with beer as well. Often lagers are compared to white wines, offering a light and crisp flavor that goes well with lighter meats, while the robust flavors of most ales compare well to various reds.
Another fallback plan to pairing that will never disappoint is regional pairing. If you have a favorite food from a particular region, try finding a beer or wine also made in that region. For example, if you love bratwurst, a German food, try purchasing a German beer to pair with it. Or if you are crazy for shrimp carbonara, try pairing it with a nice white from Italy.
A childhood comfort and favorite food, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, can be turned into an adult snack sensation when paired with a bold Syrah (also often referred to as a Shiraz). Adult floats are also gaining in popularity — that is pairing a rich stout with ice cream flavors such as chocolate or vanilla (but I admit this one seems more like a mixed drink than a pairing). In an attempt to keep it classy, you can open a bottle of champagne, and keeping the fact that you are a college student in mind, potato chips become a lovely pairing partner.
Remember wine and beer pairing is not just for the snooty experts, and with so many options right at your fingertips, I encourage you to take the challenge of finding the perfect pairing to create a harmonious fusion of flavor with food and beverage.