At least once a year I get asked “what would you pair with…” and then it’s a crazy mishmash of dishes. Steak/cauliflower/blue cheese potatoes, meatballs/artichoke hearts/garlic bread, turkey/cranberry sauce/stuffing. You get the idea.
We (the royal “we” in this business) always want to have an answer for that pairing question, but sometimes it is simply not possible. Too many flavors, too many acid combinations, too many… dishes! But we cannot just throw up our hands and say “drink water”, because water sucks.
Complicated meals need a solution, and the solution is you cannot solve the puzzle with one wine. You need 3: a red, a white, and a bubbly.
For the red, I want something versatile. I don’t want to limit it to just complementing the main dish; I want it to be able to hold up to some sides as well. So I lean towards 3 types: Southern Rhone (think Chateauneuf du Pape/Cotes du Rhone), Pinot Noir, and Cru Beaujolais. These are the “swiss army knives” of the red wine world.
Domaine Du Pegau Chateauneuf Du Pape Cuvee Reservee 2018
Jules Taylor Pinot Noir 2019
For the white, I want something fruity that will either cut though savory flavors, or accentuate sweet flavors. I also look for crisp acidity to hold hands with gravies and make a salad pop just a little more. Dry Riesling and Gewurztraminer are perfect… and, more recently, I have been in love with the crisp whites from the Basque region of Spain.
Hermann J. Wiemer Riesling Dry 2020
Hiruzta Txakolin Getariako Txakolina Hondarrabi Zuri 2020
As for bubbles, this is sometimes a completely overlooked class of wine. So many people just pigeonhole bubbles into “celebration” status which is a shame. Champagne can hold its own with a good steak believe it or not. Medium to full body, high acid… these are qualities that scream “drink me with food”. A nice full-bodied Cava, or Prosecco is always great, and a big-boy Champagne can be a game changer.
Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin Champagne Yellow Label NV
Poema Cava Brut Rose NV
The most fun part of pairing wines with tricky dishes is changing it up. Everyone expects sparkling with appetizers, and white with salad, and red with the main… mix it up. A beefy Champagne can work with steak, a lighter Pinot Noir works beautifully with potatoes, and a zingy Riesling is excellent accompanying Turkey with gravy. Don’t be afraid to go outside everyone’s expected norm. Most importantly, make your wine choices… choices. You chose the food, so choose the wine. And be confident with what you chose (I mean unless you choose Cabernet to go with asparagus, and if you do that you are on your own and you definitely cannot mention this blog).