Top 10 food and wine pairings

On the occasion of the annual edition of the Winery U food and wine class, here’s a list of some of my favorite pairings. Some of these will be featured Saturday, I promise:

Fish with Sauvignon Blanc

The typically prepared white fish fillet, with a squeeze of lemon juice and a sprinkling of green herbs like fennel or dill, will enhance the character of Sauvignon Blanc, which is citrusy with a backbone of grassiness.

Manchego with Rioja

While most of the really specific wine-and-food pairings in the world have disappeared with the globalization of the world wine market, one very local Spanish pairing still stands out. Manchego cheese, made only with milk from the Manchega breed of sheep in La Mancha, pairs remarkably well with the red wine made Rioja from the Tempranillo grape. Both are of medium weight, texture and flavor, with complementary flavors.

Steak with Cabernet Sauvignon

This is an ideal match in weights and texture, with hearty food and hearty wine. But beyond that, the chemical makeup of Cabernet Sauvignon, with plenty of tannins, pairs it perfectly with steak. Tannins bond with proteins and fats, which means that in addition to standing up to the steak’s weight, the Cab also will cleanse your palate as you eat.

Spicy Asian food with sweet Riesling

While the textures match, there’s a big contrast in flavors. The sweetness of the wine reduces the heat of the spicy food and at the same time enhances the flavors. The fact that Rieslings are served well-chilled helps make this a good pairing as well.

Mushrooms with Pinot Noir

A well-made Pinot Noir has just a hint of earthiness, one that is enhanced by the character of just about any kind of mushrooms. A typical mushroom also will have a slightly chewy character, just enough to balance with the weight of a Pinot.

Dark chocolate with Merlot

Wine and chocolate are always mentioned in pairings, but they don’t always work well together. But in this case, the fruity character of a Merlot pairs well with a not-too-sweet chocolate. There’s a slightly bitter edge to chocolate that helps it match with a slightly tannic wine, like most Merlots.

Buttered popcorn with Chardonnay

It’s an odd thought, but the complementary weights and flavors make this an ideal match. The typical Chardonnay has a buttery character, the result of contact with oak. Popcorn, especially made in the traditional way (with oil, butter and salt) has enough weight to match Chardonnay.

Feta with Pinot Grigio

There’s nothing in the world that works better with a sharp, chewy cheese than a sharp, light wine. The acidity, especially in a wine like Pinot Grigio, cuts right through the fatty texture of feta. With some added flavors, as is typical with a feta, it also could match well with Sauvignon Blanc (with added herbs) or Riesling (with added red peppers).

Peppered pork chops with Shiraz

A big, bold Australian Shiraz has all the weight it needs to pair with grilled pork. Using freshly ground pepper or a pepper-based rub on the pork will bring out another bit of character, the peppery backbone of the wine.

Peanut butter with sweet sparkling

The strangest pairing in the world, but one that thoroughly demonstrates the principles of contrasting flavors and textures. The lightness of the wine works perfectly with the heaviness of the peanut butter, and the sweetness is a dramatic contrast with the saltiness.


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