Exploring the technique and tradition of food and wine through storytelling

Signs of a successful food and wine pairing

All too often we drink wine that does not pair with the food we are eating. One element may be overpowering the other, or there may be an adverse interaction between the two. Successful pairings become instantly apparent by a few tale-tell signs. First, the food and wine interact. They change the perceived flavors in a positive manner. Second, the pairing demands you eat and drink more, not for satiating thirst or hunger, rather for the hedonistic experience.

We came across a delightful example of this during our dinner recently. The wine was a pinot grigio from Northeast Italy. The food, a broccoli salad and a pasta primavera. The pairing worked really well, particularly with the primavera. 

The first bite of the primavera delivered flavor of the lemon juice, highlighting the acid of the dish. After taking a drink of pinot grigio and going back to the pasta, the perception of acid had decreased. The other flavors had a chance to shine through: the vegetable, the herbs, and the butter. 

This is the sign of a truly successful wine pairing. The food and wine interact. Food should taste better as a result of the accompanying wine. In turn, the wine should taste better as well. Which brings me to the second sign of a successful pairing, you want to eat more food and drink more wine.

I had intended to only have one small serving of wine with my dinner but as soon as I tasted how effectively the pairing worked I knew I would need more wine.  The food tasted better and the wine tasted better. The entire meal required a back and forth experience of each element.

One more note: Do not cook with crappy wine. Use a wine that you want to drink. In this case we were drinking Pinot grigio  so I used it in the cooking to further enhance the pairing.

I have been guilty of making fun of pinot grigio in the past. I always called it PG and said it was the white T-shirt of wine. PG typically does not have any overpowering characteristics. You know you are going to get a light wine with citrus notes and green apple.  This works really well with food because between bites there is a rinse and reset of the palate. Each bite can be experienced and analyzed as opposed to losing gusto due to sensory adaptation.

Just for the record, the method for my primavera started with a hot pan and continued as follows…

I threw in onions and peppers. I knew I wanted to get some moisture out of them and add some color to get a better flavor. The same goes for the next ingredient, squash, but I didn’t want to bully the squash so much so I delayed about 2 minutes before adding it in . I added some flour, EVOO, and butter to start to develop a sauce.

The next group of vegetables I wanted to keep fresh and not cook down so much. All at once, I added broccoli, artichoke, asparagus and capers. The addition of so many ingredients at once causes the temperature in the pan to drop which works to our advantage in this scenario.

When I felt that the veggies were sufficiently sautéed, I added the pinot grigio. The alcohol gets cooked out of the wine causing the volume of the liquid to reduce. As this reduction was happening, I added in butter and lemon juice. The previously mentioned flour, the butter,   lemon juice and wine all meld to make a delightful sauce.

When the total of liquid had reduced by a little more than half, I added the cooked semolina pasta and began to stir. The starch from the pasta also helps to thicken the sauce.

Perfect, simple, solid pairing.

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