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Wine and food pairings: Do they matter?

Wine and food pairings: Do they matter?A big-deal wine guy has come up with a new system to pair food and wine, based on the theory that the old way of doing things is kind of silly.

The Wine Curmudgeon doesn’t necessarily disagree with this. When I do wine classes, the first thing I say is that there is only one wine rule anymore: Drink what you like, but be willing to try different kinds of wine. If you want to drink white zinfandel with prime rib or Napa cabernet sauvignon with Dover sole, go ahead. That’s not what I would do, but you’re not me.

In fact, this seems to be a trend gathering momentum in the wine world. The great Jacques Pepin long ago gave up pairing wine and food, and radio wine guru Scott Carpenter, who has interviewed the Wine Curmudgeon, has embraced it as well.

The reason for this reaction is not so much that wine and food pairings don’t matter, but that we have let our food become too complicated. Just as we let the Wine Magazines tell us what to drink, too many of us let celebrity chefs tell us what to eat. It’s no trouble at all to pair wine with meat loaf (almost anything red that has decent tannins), but what do you pair with some chef-driven concoction like venison meatloaf in a deconstructed chiles en nogada?

In fact, the less is better people argue that pairings are so intimidating that they actually prevent people from drinking wine with dinner. It’s easier to pour iced tea or Dr Pepper than to parse what goes with the venison meatloaf. In addition, since too many Americans still see wine as something for special occasions and not something to drink every night, pairings get more importance than they deserve. If I drink wine with leftovers on Tuesday, I’m less likely to be worried about pairings than if I drink wine with dinner only on my birthday, Christmas and New Year’s.

Yet, having said all this, wine and food pairings do matter. I taught them at the Cordon Bleu, and I use them here. But they don’t matter as an end to themselves. They matter as a base to build on. If you want to drink white zinfandel with prime rib, you should understand why most people don’t do it, because the sweetness of the wine will sour the flavors of the beef. Or that the Napa cabernet will cover up the delicate taste of the Dover sole.

Because, as my brother told me the last time we had dinner (a boneless chicken wrapped around cornbread dressing), “I like big red wines. So why can’t I drink big red wines?”

Can’t argue with that.

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