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Nov 25, 2012 11:47 AM

Tired of "Wine Pairing"

Is anyone else tired of hearing about wine pairings? In the 1970's when I first started drinking wine, the few guides to food and wine I could find were gourmands like Richard Olney and Waverly Root. From their discussions of region and of classic combinations I learned a lot. But I think they'd be appalled now at the finicky (or even silly) matchings or laugh that anyone would turn down an excellent wine to drink something less good to "match" a dish-- which I've found many times on tasting menus. If I feel like drinking a great red with my fish course, I do. If I feel like drinking a great chardonnay with Chinese dumplings I do.

Just another time I'm happy to be old.

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  1. Each to his own.

    The right wine can be/is the one you want to drink.

    However, I really enjoy the challenge of matching wine to food almost every day.

    (So maybe my handle should be pickypicky)

    13 Replies
    1. re: collioure1

      I think it might be that we are exposed to so much more wine & food these days. I think it can be a lot of fun, and does not have to be as snooty as it appeared to be years ago.

      And if you want a red with fish, go for it.

      To me, wine is like art - to each his own, you like what you like, and no one can argue that. I thoroughly enjoy wine pairings, and it's fun to discuss each aspect with your peers.

      1. re: chloebell

        Exactly, chloebelle. Hence the title of David Rosengarten and Josh Wesson's 1989 book, "Red Wine with Fish," and its superb recipes. Mix it up. Drink what you like and screw the effete pundits of propriety. And, yes, I sometimes like a little chill on my reds.

        1. re: Chefpaulo

          Red wine with fish is not revolutionary. It's the correct choice with salmon, tuna and swordfish.

          Moreover, when I have red wine open and white fish for dinner, I just make a sauce that calls for red wine - anchovy butter, beurre rouge . . .

          1. re: collioure1

            There is no "correct choice." There are suggestions/recommendations on the one hand, and there is what you the individual enjoy. Now while it *is* true that, for example, I *generally* prefer a Pinot Noir with salmon, there are certain preparations which have been served with white wine, or even sake, where I have been positively delighted.

            1. re: zin1953

              Jason, in general fishes such as salmon, tuna and swordfish demand acidic reds. Now it could be that the sauce will prefer white.

              I've already noted above that the correct wine is the one you want to drink, but in terms of red wine being revolutionary with fish, it is not revolutionary with these omega-3 fishes. In general it is the preferred/recommended/correct choice.


              1. re: collioure1

                Well, clearly it's OK to (and for) you. And isn't that what counts?

                That said, I'm with Brad, who wrote "The wine to pair with any food is the wine you like to drink with that food."

                When I worked retail, one of the most common questions I would get, on a daily basis, was, "I'm serving __________ for dinner tonight. What wine should I serve?" In my experience, there is no "correct" answer to that. If there were, then you could go into your local supermarket and see aisle after aisle of wines like Château Lamb Chop, Domaine Rack of Lamb, Maison Merguez, Côtes-du-Rack of Lamb, etc., etc. Instead, my recommendations were always based upon the customer's likes-and-dislikes, as well as the entrée's preparation.

                1. re: zin1953

                  re: Instead, my recommendations were always based upon the customer's likes-and-dislikes, as well as the entrée's preparation.

                  So were mine in our restaurants.

                  Nevertheless w.r.t. red wine being revolutionary with fish, it is not revolutionary with salmon, tuna and swordfish or with any sauce that complements red wine.

                  1. re: collioure1

                    We do many reds, and with white fish. So very much depends on the prep, but our normal "go-to" reds are:

                    Syrah/Shiraz (both Old World and New World)
                    Cru BJ
                    Rosé Champagne
                    Rosé still wines


                2. re: collioure1

                  I have had many instances, where a wine list offered a wine, that I really wanted to drink. In those cases, I order my main course, to work with THAT wine.


                3. re: zin1953


                  Like you, I first think of pairings that have worked for me in the past. Are they the ONLY ones? No way.

                  Just had a salmon in a creamy white wine sauce, and the bigger FR Chardonnay, that I chose, worked well.

                  Now, I seldom think of any white wine with a grilled steak, but as mentioned elsewhere, that has not kept me from sipping a half-dozen whites with that steak. Only a white Rioja has managed to really get my attention, and then there was a white Rhône (Northern - Hermitage), that did get my attention, unexpectedly.

                  Let's say that I am sitting at Bern's, and have just ordered a grilled, dry-aged beef tenderloin, with no sauces, or similar. I have their wine list of 10,000 wines in my lap. About 2/3 are reds. If I do not rely on the sommelier, guess where I am likely to go, especially as I have probably already spent US $ 250, up to that point? I am going red, and probably at least one of the varietals, that I associate with grilled, dry-aged beef. I may go to the Rhône, to a Zinfandel, maybe a Malbec from the Mendoza Region in Argentina, a big Cab Franc, or perhaps a Bdx blend from either the New, or Old World. If I am hosting the table, then I will likely go with a wine, that I know will pair very well, to perfectly. If it's just the two of us, or we are out with wino friends, then I will go to something, that is not in my cellar. Maybe a 5th Growth Bdx, that I did not buy, but have heard good things about?

                  I pair with what I think will work, am open to other varietals, Regions, and countries, so long as I am not hosting.


                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                    A Didier Dagueneau Blanc Fume with at least 10 years of age on it with a tenderloin could change your mind.

                    1. re: plaidbowtie

                      Have never tried this pairing, but will keep my eyes peeled for it, on the list.

                      As mentioned, I have encountered some surprising (at least to me) pairings, and always keep an open mind.

                      Just did two diners, where grilled beef was the "main," and I sampled it with a half-dozen whites (in one restaurant), and at least four, in the other. None quite did IT for me. Still, those were only with about 10 different whites, so there is much room for experimentation.



                      1. re: Bill Hunt

                        I had an oxidized Jura White with a roast lamb loin dish earlier this year that blew me away. Completely unexpected yet perfect pairing.

                        Might be worth a shot if you're looking to find a white that works with red meat. Thinking about it again now, it makes me want to try an aged white Rioja with lamb.

        2. Nope not all. Sometimes it's nice to have the work done for you, others times not. I have never been to restaurant that required you have the pairings so big deal if I decide to go my own route. To me it is just another nice option.

          1. The wine to pair with any food is the wine you like to drink with that food. Period. The follow up issue is whether or not to settle for a "good enough" pairing, or to see if there is something that would work better for you.

            1 Reply
            1. re: Brad Ballinger

              I could not agree more.

              My taste for pairings is much more eclectic, than my wife's is, but she also loves to experiment. With a "wine pairing," we often have many earlier wines, and sample - usually, they do not pair all that well, but there have been some notable exceptions, and we make not of them, plus share our observations with the sommelier. Ninety percent of the time, I expect to learn something from him/her, but 10% of the time, maybe I can add something to their "portfolio?"


            2. Yes. I was feeling cranky this morning. And of course, I can and have been doing exactly what I please for many years. However it saddens me to see so many requests on here about what goes with what. If one drinks wine with relish and thoughtfulness, then those questions answer themselves eventually with no need for rules or an authority's guidance. I worry that too many of the questions about pairing arise from fear about doing the wrong thing.

              6 Replies
              1. re: pickypicky

                Well, OF COURSE they do! Wine remains -- despite my best efforts -- a mysterious, intimidating, and even alien entity that defies understanding . . .

                It isn't, of course. It's actually very easy to get the basics, and taking to "the next level" isn't very difficult at all, requiring very little effort. But for some -- especially those who can be easily intimidated -- "Wine" can be an insurmountable challenge. (sigh)

                1. re: zin1953

                  Zin1953, yes!!! An insurmountable challenge for sure. I still "fear" French wines, lol - simply b/c it can be so overwhelming, the language, just everything. But, once I have a taste of something French, usually I'm going to like it. But to study it, can be daunting. But if studying requires tasting, then I'm all in. LOL!

                  1. re: chloebell

                    They aren't that different. Same grapes, different climates and different names.

                    You just need a conversion table.

                    1. re: collioure1

                      Agree. If one does a "cheat sheet" of grape varietals, and a little bit of geography study, a vast, and wonderful (there's that word again) world of wine awaits. Were it not for FR wines, my life would never be so complete.

                      Fear not Chloebell.


                    2. re: chloebell

                      Studying is easy . . . as FDR said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." If you continue to think French (or Italian or Spanish or German or ________ or _________) wines are a daunting prospect, then then *will* be. But only you accept that a) the labeling standards are simply different than those for American wines, and b) the labels on a French (or Italian or Spanish or German or ________ or _________) wine actually contain MORE information on them rather than less, it will all become much easier!

                    3. re: zin1953


                      You missed "wonderful," in that list of adjectives - at least for me.


                  2. Sure, you can drink anything you want. I want a heightened experience, and what I've found and experienced with others, and taught, is that great food pairing changes the experience of flavor of both the food and the wine.

                    First, a good pairing magnifies the flavor in both the food and the wine. It's not just a small magnification, but an exponential one, so the flavor becomes far bigger and lasts much longer.

                    A good pairing can create a brand new third flavor, as is the case with Sauternes and blue cheese. This is mind-bending, completely thrilling, when you experience this, especially when you experience it for the first time.

                    Then, there are pairings that correct "flaws" in either the food or wine. Astringincy in wine fades with fat in foods. Bitterness in foods, like a radicchio, disappears when paired with certain wines, like Petite Sirah. Cracked black pepper can cut the tannin in wine. A grilled food can tame too much oak in a wine, like in a wine that was opened a bit young. And so forth.

                    So, for magnification/amplification of flavor, for the thrilling creation of third flavors that did not exist before the food and wine was combined in your mouth, and for correction of undesired flavors, you go to the effort of pairing.

                    And we're not talking work. There are basic rules, just like basic rules in cooking. They're easy to learn. Good pairings truly heighten the flavors of the meal. Good pairings aren't necessary, but once you've had a few mind-blowing great pairings -- ones that changed the entire experience of flavor -- you realize what they can do. Also, once you see how the addition of an ingredient to a food can improve the wine, you increase your enjoyment.

                    I look at learning pairing rules like learning good techniques that make baked goods turn out better. Making sure ingredients are at the proper temperature. Resting the dough. The use of cold in making biscuits or croissants. Vodka in a pie crust to inhibit gluten and thus form a more tender, flaky crust. Using a finishing sugar. Introduction of steam when baking. All these are commonly done, yet we had to learn each one. Learning wine pairing rules is no different: You simply desire improved results, like in baking.

                    16 Replies
                    1. re: maria lorraine

                      Beautifully and passionately written.

                      Thank you, Maria.

                      1. re: maria lorraine

                        Yes, but my pie crust has Crisco and comes from my great-grandmother's recipe. Or what if I don't want my oak or tannin tamed?

                        Your view of wine pairings is one view of wine drinking. Nothing will enhance a great wine more than enjoying it by itself and really paying attention to what it offers. Nothing will help a mediocre wine more than food.

                        I'm glad you have your passion of matching wine and food. I do not criticize it. However, it is simply one fashion of wine drinking and not the only one. This is exactly my point.

                        1. re: pickypicky

                          You've misunderstood.

                          I don't disagree at all with your method of not pairing wine. I've stated that expressly.

                          You will find me in great agreement with you about focusing and "really paying attention" to what the wine offers. This is a direct path to experiencing more flavor.

                          I've never said that wine pairing is the only way to enjoy wine. If done correctly, it does greatly enhance flavor.

                          Wine pairing may not be for you, or you have been misguided into thinking that wine pairing is complicated or finicky or silly. But the reason for wine pairing is increased flavor and the incredible delight of new flavors formed by the pairing. Those phenomena are something to experience if you haven't done so already -- they create Aha! moments.

                          P.S.: Your pie crust recipe is fine. I love the old pie crust recipes with Crisco or lard. No need for vodka. It does something wondrous chemically, though, if you're game to try it.

                          1. re: maria lorraine

                            Forgive me. You're absolutely right. And I fully understand the point of pairing. There is nothing better than d'Yquem and foie gras. (or d'Yquem and anything, really)

                            My rant is more about pairing as the gimmick all restaurants use now. I am suspect of most suggestions of most pairing menus. They usually sound contrived and portentous, unless someone quite good is doing the work. Experiencing wine is a lifetime job, and there simply are no shortcuts.

                            1. re: pickypicky

                              Ah, I understand now. I agree with you. Wine pairings, as marketed by most restaurants, is done incompetently. No magic, just a grab at profits.

                              1. re: pickypicky

                                I, too, understand better now. Thank you.

                                Case in point: my wife and I were in Las Vegas in October and dined at é -- the 8-seat restaurant of José Andres inside of Jaleo. The meal was superb, 24 courses. There were two offered wine pairing flights, a "regular" and a "premium" one. I thought the price was outrageous for the "premium" one, which -- of course -- was of more interest to me. So we opted for a bottle of white, followed by a half-bottle of aged Rioja Gran Reserva. IMHO, we drank better and for less . . .

                                1. re: zin1953

                                  Yes, that really was my point. Thanks for waiting for me to express it. So often we've chosen the tasting menu and then been disappointed by the muddle of middling wines. When we could have had one bottle (or two) of something standout, that we could have relished as it unfolded through the meal! Or chosen something we can't get on our own or may never see again. . .

                                  I think the vogue in tasting menus gives novices the idea that matching wine to food is a science not an art, and that it takes lots of personal tasting. I've also felt that suppliers dump wines on restaurants at discounts that they then move through tasting menus. But I'm cynical.

                                  1. re: pickypicky

                                    I, too, appreciate the clarification. And I'm glad the thread continued long enough for that to happen.

                                    I've done the wine pairing per course thing once. I know there's a thread on this board where the OP asked about sharing pourings. The one time I did the wine pairing, I had them do half pours. It was a kitchen table tasting menu dinner at Charlie Trotter's and the couple joining us wanted to do the wine pairing thing.

                                    Apart from that one experience, I've usually ordered one or two bottles of wine and extended them throughout the tasting menu. Also, on occasion, I've brought my own wine for tasting menus.

                                    I think your cynicism is well founded in some cases, but probably not all. But some diners prefer to have someone else make the wine choice because they are still too afraid of making a "wrong" choice.

                                    1. re: pickypicky

                                      I have no desire to "improve" upon Maria Lorraine's excellent post (see, but here is a quick version of my take:

                                      a) Drink what you like, with what you want -- not even the LAPD's infamous SWAT team will kick in your front door for serving (for example) a Riesling with a rib-eye.

                                      b) There is no ONE PERFECT match -- that is, there are always several different wines that will match up with any particular dish;

                                      c) HOWEVER, when one does match wine to food "successfully," there is a synergy that makes both the wine and the food taste better than either one would if you were serving only water; conversely, if it is an "unsuccessful" match, both the wine and the food will suffer.

                                      d) I have no doubt that the *idea* behind a sommelier selecting the wines for pairing with the Chef's Tasting Menu is a sound one, but I find little value there -- not only do costs have to be covered (for the wine that remains unsold and unserved), but so,too, do the profits. By definition, it means high prices and weak value-for-money. So even when the pairings "work," the cost will be excessive. (IMHO.



                                      1. re: zin1953

                                        I apologize for not being specific in the title-- and not really knowing what I wanted to say. Really, I was reacting to restaurant tasting menus, but also the ripple-effect out into people's lives where they believe that's the only way to serve wine. I respect ML's beautiful and impassioned post, but those are the words of a learned, experienced, thoughtful wine drinker. I agree more with you, Jason, that the Chef's Tasting Menus with wine = money-making gimmicks in many cases. (PS. Thanks for sticking with me to the end.)

                                        1. re: zin1953

                                          "c) HOWEVER, when one does match wine to food "successfully," there is a synergy that makes both the wine and the food taste better than either one would if you were serving only water; conversely, if it is an "unsuccessful" match, both the wine and the food will suffer"

                                          My question to you in this regard:

                                          Is it possible that synergy is relative to the participating individuals?

                                          Or in other words, have you ever witnessed a situation where one taster qualifies a pairing as a perfect match, while another taster qualifies same match as unsuccessful?

                                          1. re: RicRios

                                            Not zin1953 here...but I'd like to respond.

                                            I have not, ever, come across the extreme dichotomy that you have described -- a successful "wow" pairing by one person and another who declared the same pairing unsuccessful.

                                            In pairings to overcome flaws, I have come across tasters who never detected the flaw in the food or in the wine in the first place, and thus were unsurprised by how the flaw was resolved.

                                            Without question, tasters have different sensitivities and insensitivities, as a result of genetics, cultural exposure, training (or not), hormones, degree of hunger, etc

                                            I have encountered tasters whose palates were not able to detect subtleties, and thus were unable to pick up on some of the enhancements from pairing. By the same token, other tasters were sometimes able to detect subtleties for the first time when the same flavor was mirrored in both the food and the wine -- the individual flavor was amplified enough for them to detect it.

                                            Why do you ask, Ric? What's your experience?

                                            1. re: maria lorraine

                                              My concern was purely theorical, but with this malicious intent in mind: if "perfect" vs "unsuccessful" pairings were dependent, among other causes, on the taster, that would cause the "molecular pairings" theory (touched upon a few inches down in this same thread ) to fall apart.

                                            2. re: RicRios

                                              Ric, like Maria Lorraine, I cannot recall ever experiencing the extreme divergence of opinion such as you describe. Certainly there are times (virtually always!) when some people prefer (e.g.) the Bâtard-Montrachet from Sauzet while others prefer the Bâtard from Laflaive with ________________ (how's THAT for a reference???), or the Châteauneuf over the California Rhone-styled blend with the ___________ . . . or the Napa Valley Cabernet over the Napa Valley Merlot from the same vineyard when paired with __________ . . . or vice-versa. That sort of thing happens all the time. But, to the best of my recollection, I've not experienced the "ahhhh, this is a perfect match" versus "Yuck -- that $#|+ is gawd-awful with the __________!" sorts of reactions.


                                2. re: maria lorraine

                                  <<what I've found and experienced with others, and taught, is that great food pairing changes the experience of flavor of both the food and the wine.>>

                                  To me, that is the epitome of food and wine pairings. A synergy, that enhances both the food AND the wine. A wonderful thing, when it all comes together.


                                  1. re: Bill Hunt

                                    Thanks, Bill. Hope we're able to share a table in the new year.