Pairing wine and food is a challenge, particularly given the wide variety of ingredients and cooking styles that most individuals are able to tuck into today. What sort of wine, for instance, is best to serve with sushi or with curry ?
But let’s begin with something more conventional, shall we? Everybody is well aware that cheese and wine are an elegant pairing, like Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers; they go together other like peas and carrots, right? Actually, it depends on which kind of cheese and what wine.
Hard cheeses such as aged Gouda or Mimolette are wonderful with an aged Bordeaux or a superior Syrah. As for blue cheeses, Roquefort and Sauternes is a classic pairing, Stilton and tawny port compliment one another, and for blue cheese in general, Malmsey Madeira is usually a good wine to choose. If you’re looking for a match for natural rind goat’s cheese, Sancerre or Soave are both appropriate pairings. For white, immature Brie or Camembert, the best choices are either a high quality Chardonnay or white Rhone, and for mature versions of these popular cheeses, red wine is more appropriate , a young Syrah, Grenache, or St-Emilion. If you’re serving a rindless fresh cheese, like cream cheese or mozzarella, then a simple Bordeaux blanc, white Rhone, or young Beaujolais are all excellent choices.
Cheese is complicated, but Christmas dinner–turkey, gravy and all the trimmings–is straight forward. In my experience, there are 2 different wines that are the perfect compliment to a classic Christmas dinner: high-quality Burgundy or vintage Veuve Clicquot rose Champagne. Both of them will cost you a pretty penny of course, but after all, Christmas is a time to splash out . That second, very specific recommendation is one I got from Ed McCarthy’s very informative volume, ‘Champagne For Dummies.’ I heeded his advice and was pleasantly surprised at just how very well the pairing worked. And thankfully, as vintage rose Champagnes go, Veuve Clicquot is reasonably priced.
All right then, let’s focus for a moment on which wines go with less conventional foods. As I noted in the introduction, a variety of ethnic cuisines are very common nowadays. If you’re having sushi, or something else Japanese, I suggest following the general rule of serving a wine from the same locale as the cuisine. Koshu, a white wine made from the Japanese grape of the same name (it is related to the Sauvignon Blanc grape), is the perfect compliment to sushi.
A wine that works really well with Korean barbecue is a potent Californian Petite Syrah. Korean barbecue is a favorite with my family, and I normally pour a bottle of Eos Estate Reserve Petite Syrah with it.
For Thai food, if the dominant flavors you’re trying to pair with are lemon grass and ginger, then what you want is a pungent new world Sauvignon Blanc (ideally from New Zealand), or Riesling–either Australian or a German Spatlese. For coconut milk based dishes, Australian Chardonnay or Verdelho, Alsace Pinot Blanc or Gewurztraminer, or even non-vintage Champagne or Cava, Spain’s sparkling wine, are all great choices.
In the case of Indian curry, try a medium-sweet white served quite cold, for instance, South African Chenin Blanc, Alsace Pinot Blanc, Cava or non-vintage Champagne. It is also feasible to go the other route and emphasize the curry’s spiciness with a very tannic red like Barolo or Barbaresco, or a full-bodied Chateauneuf-du-Pape or Amarone. But in general, white wines are a better pairing with hot and pungent dishes, and you particularly should avoid tannic reds.
Finally, I’d like to go over one more popular food, or rather cooking style: barbecue. As is generally the case with wine-food pairings, it’s hard to offer a simple, definitive reply to the question, What bottle of wine is best to have at a barbecue? That is of course primarily dependent on what’s on the grill; the reply is not identical for tri-tip, shrimp and hamburgers. One more thing to consider though is whether you’re having a black tie or t-shirt barbecue. If you want to be fancy, you can serve a classic Bordeaux blend with your steak, Pinot Noir with your Alaskan king salmon, or Alsace Riesling with your king crab and shellfish. If it’s a more dressed down affair, then Zinfandel or Beaujolais are better selections. One good thing regarding Beaujolais is that, even though it’s a red wine, it’s served chilled, which means that it’s a refreshing tipple for a summertime barbecue.
If you are interested in getting more useful wine advice, particularly about wine tasting in Santa Barbara County, then check out Eric Hilton’s site, http://santabarbarawinetasting.net.