Potato chips and champagne (and other must-try food and wine pairings)

by Camille on June 24, 2010

When I heard that my colleague Jeanette Hurt had a new book out, The Complete Idiot’s Guide To Food and Wine Pairings (written with sommelier Jaclyn Stuart), I couldn’t help but be intrigued … if only if I’m a bit of an idiot myself when it comes to figuring out what wine to match with my snacks and meals (and vice versa). As Jeanette explained to me, getting the right flavors paired up isn’t nearly as tricky as it seems. Here, she shares four super simple guidelines that will radically–and deliciously–alter the way you approach food and wine:

1. Don’t be a purist; many pairing rules are just begging to be broken.
Case in point: “Serve white wine with fish”. One of my favorite pairings is actually Pinot Noir with salmon. I first experienced that pairing at a restaurant, and the dish, “virtually smoked salmon” (sushi salmon, but served with a bowl of hickory smoke, overturned at serving so it would waft over the dish) was perfectly paired with a Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley.

What’s most important is to match weight or intensity of food with weight or intensity of wine. A big, heavy steak, for example, is not going to go with a light Pinot Grigio–but you could pair a steak with a really rich Chardonnay, especially if it was served with a buttery cream sauce.

2. Use your nose before you use your tongue.
One rule of thumb that does work: try and match aromas of wine with flavors of food. A wine with aromas of poached pear and apricots would likely pair quite nicely with a dish that has poached pears and/or apricots.

3. Low-brow food can be the perfect match for high-brow wine.
Probably one of the most unusual, but excellent pairings I’ve stumbled upon is sparkling wine and potato chips. The effervescence of the wine, especially a sec (dry) sparkler, clears the palate of the fried fat of the chips.

Other great high/low combos include buttered popcorn or grilled cheese sandwiches and Chardonnay; hot dogs and rosé; pancakes with maple syrup and sparkling Shiraz; bean burritos and red Rhone wines; and donuts with Moscato di Asti.

4. Be fearless and your palate will thank you.
For every perfectly good pairing, there’s likely an exception. Sauvignon Blanc, for example, goes great, in general, with goat cheese. But, as I discovered, Humbold Fog cheese clashes with Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc – it’s like scratching your nails across a blackboard!

But if it doesn’t work, no big deal; it’s all about experimenting and having fun! Don’t be afraid of trying new wines or new foods. When they’re paired well, you’ll enjoy them more than you would if you consumed them alone.

Thanks, Jeanette!

–Camille

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