The rule always used to be, “White wine with white meat, red wine with red meat.” These days, not so much. In fact the rule has changed to “drink what you like”. If you like Chateau Lafite with Corn Flakes, knock yourself out. Just invite me over to have a taste of the Lafite, and then I’ll leave you alone to perform your heathen ritual.
The drink what you like idea is not without precedent. Pliny the Elder, who died in 79 AD said, “The best kind of wine is that which is most pleasant to him who drinks it.” In more recent times, a guy who went by the name Mark Twain said, “There are no standards of taste in wine…Each man’s own taste is the standard, and a majority vote cannot decide for him, nor in any slightest degree affect the supremacy of his own standard.” Mark Twain may have been a little wordy with that one, but he meant this: drink what you like and don’t let anyone tell you different.
That being said, there are some guidelines you may want to consider. These are not rules, just some common sense ideas to help you enjoy wine and food more. The most basic is, light wines with light food, heavy wines with heavy food. Simple stuff. In later articles we’ll talk about particular wines with particular dishes, but right now, it will be just general guidelines. The idea is to get you out of your wine comfort zone and try some different stuff.
The red wine/red meat and white wine/white meat idea was basically good because red wines are usually heavier wines, and red meats are usually heavier foods. Same idea with whites; white wine and white meats are usually lighter. However, a traditional Coq au Vin (chicken cooked in red wine) is best with a light to medium bodied red wine. And while many people believe a red wine is best with a Thanksgiving turkey dinner, I happen to like a full bodied California Chardonnay better. The “white wine with fish” thing doesn’t always work either. Pinot Noir pairs beautifully with salmon, but a big Chardonnay might be good too. And fresh tuna is a red meat, so…
The idea is to keep everything in balance. If you were having a grilled New York Strip, a delicately floral Riesling would not be best wine because it would taste watery next to the steak. It would be overpowered. If the dish is poached flounder, a big, aggressive Zinfandel will make the fish taste like cardboard. How the food is prepared is just as important to a wine selection as what the food is. The right wine and food match makes them both better. Sorry to go all “Zen” on you, but the key is balance.