“The Perfect Pairing.” Chefs, sommeliers and wine industry folks talk about “it” all the time. Wine X is the “perfect match” for this Dish Y. I’m going to let you in on a little secret—most of the time it’s nothing more than hyperbole.
For every dish, there are a great many wines that will taste delicious alongside it. Will they all be mind blowing—or even “perfect?” No, but that doesn’t mean you won’t have a great dining experience. Pairing wine with food isn’t nearly as difficult as many would have you believe. If the food is good, the wine is good and the friends you’re dining with are good—you’re going to do just fine. I’m not saying you should pair that porterhouse cooked black and blue with a delicate Mosel riesling, but you could drink a local merlot, some grower Champagne, Napa cabernet, Paso zinfandel or even a rich, concentrated chardonnay with it and enjoy yourself.
That’s not to say that there aren’t pairings that really do take both the food and the wine—a key point—to another level. Those pairings do exist, but they are rare and in my experience often happen by accident and with wines you may not expect.
So when people ask me about wine pairing rules, I typically counter with guidelines. It’s rare that you’re eating a single food, prepared simply anyway. That porterhouse could come with a red wine-mushroom sauce, or a béarnaise sauce, or a salsa verde. Each changes the dish dramatically.
When all else fails, I lean on bubbly, riesling and pinot noir—the common denominator being acidity, which is always welcome at the table. Even sweeter styles of wines are only welcome on my table if they are vibrant with acidity.
My editor has asked for some wine pairings for local, seasonal foods—always something worth discussing. But as I said, I’m going to offer some guidelines rather than rules. Ultimately, you should try a few things and see what you like best with whatever is in front of you at breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Fresh Peas and/or Asparagus.
These are some of the first vegetables you’ll find at farmstands and farmers markets at this time of year—and they’re considered difficult pairings in some circles. Of course you are probably eating them as part of a dish or as a side, not the main course, so don’t worry so much about them. But if you’re eating something like a spring pea and asparagus risotto with parmesan cheese, I’d reach for rosé—especially one with some cabernet franc in it, which brings herbal and subtle vegetal notes to match the spring veggies. On the other hand, you could drink a red cabernet franc, but probably one without obvious oak. Look to Anthony Nappa Wines or Bedell Cellars for such a cab franc.
The first goat’s milk chevre of the season might as well be a holiday in my house—and we almost always reach for local sauvignon blanc. It’s not a particularly creative pairing, but it works consistently—whether the cheese is on a cheeseboard with baguette or stirred into a sauce. My favorite sauvignon blanc come from Macari Vineyards, Paumanok Vineyards, Channing Daughters Winery and Palmer Vineyards.
Lamb. You’ll see a lot of lamb on menus—and I’ve seen it more at my butcher lately too—in the spring. A great many Long Island red wines will shine with simply prepared lamb, but I prefer either a cool vintage merlot or a cabernet franc. Both will have a gentle herbal edge that picks up on the rosemary I love with lamb. Try it with Roanoke Vineyards cabernet franc or a merlot from Clovis Point or Pellegrini Vineyards.