Pairing is Caring

After a dining and drinking experience like none other at Momofuku Ko, and to follow up on Pete’s wine article, I thought it important to start talking about pairing food with wine. Unlike following a recipe to make sure itPhatman's rack turns out right there is no one right answer when searching for a wine to go with a meal. Everyone’s tastes are different and what works for one person may be terrible for someone else. So, keeping in mind that this is still very much a personal choice there are some guidelines to help you figure out what works best with what. As I am writing this I realize you probably aren’t even listening to me anyway. All you are doing is staring at the picture of my fabulous rack. That’s disgusting. Hey! My eyes are up here. Let’s focus people and get back on track.

I’m by no means a pro when it comes to wine but I’ve been lucky enough to hit up vineyards in two regions in France and befriend a sommelier along the way so I know some of the basics at least. If you really don’t know much about the subject I think the safest thing you can do is work within the same region. Let’s say you are making Beef Bourgignon then the ideal pairing for that would be a wine from Burgundy. On a side note here too, if you’re making a meal that calls for wine try using a wine from that specific spot in the world. You’ve got to figure that what the French, Italians, Spanish and other old world countries eat and drink together have been worked on and crafted over centuries to work perfectly together so they know what they’re talking about. All that to say if you’re making Beef Bourgignon use Burgundy wine in the dish and wash it down with a Burgundy too.

Many of us tend to go cheap when we cook with wine since most of us don’t have the budget to blow a wad on a bottle just to pour it into a pan. That alone is a fair reason not to go crazy on spending when cooking with wine and trust me I do this often enough but you’ll find if you invest a little extra cash once in a while the quality of your dish will go way up. When I was studying sound production in my younger days I had a teacher tell me that you could use all the fancy sound effects you want to zazz up a sound but if the original audio source was garbage the end result would still be garbage. “Garbage in=garbage out” is what he would say. So just keep in mind that if you’re wondering where that armpit aftertaste in your meal is coming from it may be that 4$ corner store wine you brought home.


If getting wine from the region your food is from isn’t an option, or if you want to break the mold a little, there are some other things to think of. If you are eating food high in fat content like a nice ribeye steak or some juicy duck breast pair it with a bitter wine that is high in alcohol content. The fat content of the food helps cut through the bitterness of the wine and creates balance. That’s what we’re looking for right? You never want food that overpowers the wine or vice versa. High alcohol wine also pairs perfectly with sweet food. That’s why you’ll see many dessert wines that are fortified.

One of the toughest styles of food I’ve had to try to pair wine with is spicy food. I love hot stuff. I am one of those dudes that will be sitting there with sweat beading on my forehead as my face reddens and mouth is blazing and you would think I am in agony. But just ask me how I’m doing and you’ll get a curt “That’s good shit.” from me as I plow through my plate. I tend to stick with beer most times when I eat spicy since they work wonders together but what about wine? You gotta tread lightly here because if you go with a heavier, stronger wine then get ready for super mega burny time. It will open up your taste buds and make whatever you are eating seem all that much spicier. So, in this case try pairing a nice hot curry dish with a low alcohol, sweeter wine like something from the Alsace region. A nice Reisling or Gewurztraminer should do nicely. You’ll see, give it a shot and you’ll be writing to me and saying “Hey Phatman thanks for showing me that awesome pair!” Umm that sounds wrong on so many levels…

Like I said at the beginning of this, don’t let so-called experts tell you something is wrong with what you want to pair a meal with if it’s something you like. Personal taste trumps all. Try to have fun with it though and see if you can get that perfect harmony in your mouth. Your funky mind will be blown away when the wine and the food in your mouth are in perfect synchronicity. There’s just this reaction you get that goes beyond having the flavors match. Be brave too and give some crazier ideas a try sometimes. Take something like sushi. If you can get your hands on a good saké well lucky you. Where I live it’s rare I find any of it at all, let alone a decent one. So what can you do? Give some of the whites I mentioned earlier a shot. Alsacian whites work great with sushi. If you’ve got the budget for it pop open  a nice champagne. It’s always party time when champagne in on the menu.

The best advice I can give, because not every pairing attempt will work, is take furious notes. Do this preferably before you get hammered. It sucks the bag when a week after a great night of eating and drinking you take a look at what you jotted down so you can bring the perfect wine to a dinner and all you can make out is something along the lines of “Uncontrollably I am an elf”.

Stay phat.


Categories: Phood Philosophies

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