Ryan Chartrand

You’ve had food.You’ve had wine. Combining the two, well that’s where it gets tricky. Actually, it’s really not … wine goes with food and food goes with wine.

The basics of what makes the the small nuances of a perfect marriage work can be laid out pretty simply. So let me begin.

Remember your extroverted party girl of a roommate? She’d go out eight nights of the week if she could. She had the alcohol tolerance of a whiskey bottle. You would never think of matching her up with your quiet engineering friend you met in the dorms. But sometimes, like Paula Abdul says, opposites attract. But looking back at the whole Sanjaya run, I might take Paula’s advice with a grain of salt. But back to the whole matchmaker business. There are not rules to dating per se, just general guidelines. Wine works the same way.

You wouldn’t necessarily put a zesty zinfandel with a mellow minded mahi mahi. Perhaps a better fit would be the zesty zinfandel with the robust steak you ordered. Or, the pairing of the crisp Sauvignon Blanc with the mahi mahi. But rules sometimes are meant to be broken. These are just merely suggestions.

So maybe your wine is a little too robust for your usual preference. Out to dinner? Never you fear! You can generally take a overly-tannic wine, a wine with a huge pucker factor, and add it to proteins or salts to diminish some of that tannic feel. In this case, the zinfandel and steak scenario would be optimal.

Overly sweet wines can be matched with something sweet such as grapes or a chocolate cake. This makes the sweet wines a bit more tame to the palette. If the wine does not taste sweet enough, the use of something salty like cheese or bruschetta might make it taste more sweet.

Wines that include a high acid complexity are quite similar to the wines with high robustness. If you try something salty, the acid appears to decrease. When you have something sweet, the acid appears to decrease. It seems that both work equally to reduce the taste of an overly acidic wine.

One distinguishing trait that can be used during pairing is the relatedness of the food dish and the wine itself. If the nose of a favorite wine smells of cinnamon and raisins, you might be able to make a match. My suggestion would be to find some attribute in the food that is similar. For example, taking a savory curry chicken dish and adding raisins to it. Doing this actually complements the wine.

So perhaps you’re fixing a chicken dinner and you’re wondering … is white right? Well if you’re thinking about pairing a white wine with poultry, that goes together and is part of the complementary principle. However, if you choose red for the chicken, you would be using a contrast principle, which is equally accepted. Pretty much, if you like it, have it.

Here are a few suggestions for food and wine pairings using the complementary principle: shrimp cocktails with Sauvignon Blanc, cheese and crackers with Chardonnay, lamb with a bold Shiraz, salmon with Pinot Noir and dark chocolate with Cabernet Sauvignon.

And when serving wines to others, it is important to know that white wines are the precursor to red ones. So it is best to plan to drink any white wines before serving a Merlot or Pinot Noir. Also, along those lines, make sure you serve dry wines before you serve sweet ones as not to confuse the palette.

The main idea about experimenting with wine and food is that if you know basic properties of most wines you can easily adjust the food around the handicaps or strong suits of the wine. The most important part of the process …. is the process!

So no matter what you end up pairing with what, as long as the process is enjoyable, you are having a good time! Try some of my food pairing suggestions tonight, or try one of your own. But again, make sure you are having fun!

Lauren Jeter is a 2005 wine and viticulture graduate and is pursuing a master’s degree in agribusiness. Feel free to submit any recommendations, wine festival tickets, favorite wines or recipes to laurenjeter@gmail.com

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