Matchmaking: Food and wine pairing made simple

Written for the Los Altos Town Crier.

Valentine's Day approaches and love is in the air. Perhaps that's why I recently found myself taking stock of the couples I’m close with. In doing so, I came to the realization that there are two main categories of love that my couple friends fall into.

matchmaker: make me a food and wine match!

First, there are the duos that are so alike that they finish one another’s sentences and 
giggle before their partner delivers the punchline. The second type is far less “two of a kind” but just as well-suited for great love. In these relationships, the individuals involved could not be more different, yet they seem their best selves in one another’s company.
Of course, being a wine enthusiast, I couldn't help but notice how my friends’ romances mirror the relationships between food and wine. That is, a food and wine combination works together because the elements are either utterly complementary or so opposite that they pair perfectly.
A great pairing can either echo the attributes of the food it is served with or introduce entirely new flavors and sensations.
Whether you’re selecting the right wine from the by-the-glass menu at a restaurant or creating a menu at home, food and wine pairing might seem intimidating – but it needn't. Understanding the basic way food and wine improve one another will make you a skilled matchmaker.

‘We go together like rama lama lama ka dinga da dinga dong’

Danny and Sandy from the musical “Grease” may have seemed like an odd pair, but it was underlying similarities that made their love worthy of ballads sung in the streets. Finding what a food and wine have in common is a great way to create pairings, because congruent flavors can elevate one another.
If shrimp salad with green-apple vinaigrette is on the menu, you might know to choose a white wine. But not all whites will work. You should think of balancing the acidity of the salad with the wine.
If a wine has less acidity than the food you are drinking it with, the wine will taste lifeless. Imagine, for example, having that shrimp salad with an oaked California Chardonnay – the pairing would be utterly out of balance. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, however, would be wonderful with the salad because it has enough acidity to hold its own against the vinaigrette.
The same idea works for hearty dishes, too. A mushroom ragu over polenta is rich with earthy flavors. It would pair wonderfully with a glass of supple, earthy red wine. A lighter Nebbiolo from Italy’s Piedmont region would be a fantastic partner for the ragu.

‘We come together cuz opposites attract’

Paula Abdul sang of the way opposites can work, and I agree with her. There are times when being too matchy is a terrible thing.
Bitter with bitter, for instance, is not a good idea when pairing wine and food. Finding a dark chocolate and red wine that work together is tricky for this reason. Both have bitter (“tannic” in wine-speak) profiles. But put that tannic red with a fatty steak and the combination will send your taste buds over the moon.
Tannins cut the richness of a fondue, too – sipping a Syrah while dipping bits of bread into the melted cheese is a scrumptious and romantic meal.

Valentine’s Day ideas

Regardless of the kind of pairing that suits your fancy, wine and romance go hand in hand. Here are few recommendations:
  • Roast chicken and potatoes served with a Fieldfare 2010 Chardonnay from Monterey County ($17.99) would make for a great night this Valentine’s Day.
  • Another swoon-worthy pairing is red-sauce spaghetti served with oodles of Parmesan cheese and a glass of Contemassi 2008 Chianti ($14.99). The acidity of the sauce and the wine are just right together.
  • In the category of opposites attracting, a Washington State Riesling paired with pad Thai would be lush. A bottle of Kung Fu Girl 2012 Riesling ($11.99), full of stone-fruit zing, will change your opinion of American Riesling altogether.
  • If the way to your love’s heart is through dessert, a 2011 Mionetto Moscato ($11.99) and chocolate torte would be a juxtaposition sure to please.


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