I don’t put a lot of stock in perfectly precise pairings when it comes to food and wine. I firmly believe that drinking your favorite wine with your favorite food is as subjective as preferred color combinations and political parties.
But I certainly enjoy food-wine-pairing discussions and exploring interesting recommendations. In my line of work is an everyday topic. This said, it’s not often I get completely stumped when it comes to off-the-beaten-path wine pairings. Fried chicken with cornbread? Chardonnay. Salmon with a teriyaki glaze? Pinot Noir or Beaujolais. Movie theater popcorn? Champagne!
I bring this up because, earlier this week, I was presented a pairing request that still has me scratching my head: Chicken with a mustard glaze and artichokes accompanied by a salad of fresh spring peas with a horseradish dressing.
Sounds tasty. But when I reached into my frontal lobe for a wine recommendation – I came up empty. It wasn’t the chicken that did it. Depending on preparation, chicken is pretty much a blank canvas for wine. Roasted – Burgundy or a light California Pinot Noir. Fried – Sparkling. Pot pie – Chardonnay.
The mustard glaze didn’t help – nor did the acidic vegetables (artichokes are a notoriously tough challenge for wine). What really threw me was the spring-pea-with-horseradish-dressing part. Mind you, the salad sounds delicious. I envision something akin to those addictive little crunchy wasabi peas that one digs into at fancy hotel bars or haphazardly snags during a Trader Joes run… But pairing a wine with that?
To make it more difficult – the folks seemed insistent on red.
So off to research I went. For reference, there are a number of guides and experts I turn to for pairing puzzles like this – to name a few:
● “Perfect Pairings” and “Daring Pairings” by author & Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein (son of cookbook author Joyce Goldstein)
● “Wine with Food” by Joanna Simon
● “The Flavor Bible” by Karen Page and Andrew Dornenburg
The Gourmet Sleuth’s food-and-wine pairing chart
has an interesting conversion chart that allows you to enter varietals and food types to narrow down recommendations
Although it requires a subscription, WineSpectator
offers endless insight and suggestions
● And Master of Wine Jeannie Cho Lee has authored a book, titled “Asian Palate,” that addresses the mysteries of pairing Asian cuisine with wine.
More random resources abound. GaryVaynerchuk
once delivered an entire tome to pairing breakfast cereal and wine (his favorite combo: Cap’n Crunch with a spätlese Mosel Riesling). Whatever. Seriously – this is a guy who once ate dirt in front of Conan O’Brien in what I’m guessing was a misguided attempt to break down the “mystery of wine.” Snore.
Tyler Coleman (Dr. Vino
) runs a series titled “Impossible Food-Wine Pairings” that covers everything from Halloween candy to seven-layer dip to veau chaud. Full disclosure – Enoteca La Storia once held a Halloween Candy pairing event, which I thought was pretty fun.
Keremy Parzan (DoBianchi
) has scrutinized the (taboo) pairing of dairy with seafood in Italy, the annual Thanksgiving menu conundrum, and even baby food (don’t ask).
So what did I recommend in the end? Well, red never made it into the equation. And as for whites – my best solution was an Alsatian Riesling or Gewurztraminer, an Austrian Riesling, or maybe even an Italian Kerner.
But our best “outside the box (or bottle) guess” was: Sake.
Considering the acidic notes of the greens, combined with the acrid heat of the horseradish, we figured sake offered enough weight and density to stand up to the sweetness of the peas and spiciness of the horseradish, without adding oak or smoky notes. Steering clear of added sugar would be key – so we settled on a dry sake, anything ripe with nutty and/or floral overtones.
Moral of this story: Relax – if only to avoid the sort of food-and-wine anxiety that leads to analysis paralysis. That and when developing a menu I’d advise you to decide (up front) whether you want to give the wine or food the starring role.
By no means does one have to upstage the other. The perfect meal is one where each complements and highlights the best aspects of the other. But – if you have your heart set on a challenging dish (corned beef with cabbage
, artichoke soup, spring peas with horseradish dressing) – then temper your expectations about finding an ideal wine pairing. Wine might not always be the most complimentary accompaniment.
And for those of you who insist on drinking wine with that challenging dish – thank goodness for all those internets, yahoos and googlers out there... They sure come in handy.