5 Essential Rules for Pairing Wine With Food
Acceptable wine pairings have come a long way since James Bond could (almost) spot a traitor by his ineptitude at the table. ("Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.")
It seems that these days, anything and everything goes—white wine with a juicy steak, Burgundy with dumplings. The explosion of tasting menus has thoroughly opened the doors of wine experimentation. I must confess, however, that I am something of a classicist. It's good to have some guidelines—you have to know the rules to break them. And as for having red wine with fish, I actually had some this week at a bistrot in Paris. It was turbot with a nice Gevrey-Chambertin. While the wine was perfectly lovely, I would have preferred a white Chassagne Montrachet any day, but sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the table. Let's just say that I am glad Mr. Bond wasn't there to judge me.
It's all about personal preferences and palate—here are my favorite ways to pair wine with (and without) food.
1. Pâte en croûte and a beautiful Burgundy like Vosne-Romanée may be the most perfect wine pairing ever invented. Served with a warm, mustardy onion salad and crunchy pickles, the combo satisfies my palate like few other pairings. As a rule of thumb, it's hard to go wrong with food and wine that come from the same region—after all, they grew up together, know each other well, and complement each other perfectly.
2. Wine and cheese: Now, this is a category open for interpretation! I love to drink a big glass of dry white with my cheeses, but then again, an elegant red can be just as good. Jura wine with Comté cheese and walnuts (another local pairing) is a classic, but a particular favorite of mine is a nice slice of gorgonzola with a sip of Passito di Pantelleria. The actress Carole Bouquet produces a really good one.
More: Comté cheese plays a leading role in Mimi's rich Butternut Squash Gratin.
3. Living in Bordeaux, I am a big fan of Sauternes wines. They are perfect as an apéritif, and spectacular with Roquefort and desserts that are not too sweet (sweet upon sweet is not a brilliant mix). My all-time favorite way to enjoy a well-chilled Sauternes is with a bitter, deep chocolatey dessert such as a delicious chocolate ice cream, like the one I recently had at a friend's house. (I would say château, but that sounds too pretentious!)
4. I am a big fan of Basque cooking: black pig fed on acorns, for example, spiced up with some piment d'espelette and lots of garlic. A dish like that calls for a big wine: earthy, musky, yet smooth and velvety. On such an occasion you can't go wrong with a great Médoc wine, and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou from St. Julien, 2000 or 2003 for example, will do the job elegantly.
5. Being a "food person," it may sound strange to admit that one of my favorite ways to have a really great Bordeaux wine is to pair it with... nothing!
I like to offer guests Champagne and gougères when they arrive (Michel Drappier is a favorite Champagne) but then, before dinner, if the menu allows, it can be a good idea to bring out the red and enjoy the beauty and complexity of a favorite wine, simply on its own. You'll need a beautiful, big, crystal glass to fully appreciate the color and the aromas; each sip is a journey through a vineyard on a golden early autumn day when the grapes are ripe and bursting with promise. Wines close to my heart are Château Lynch-Bages from Pauillac—the 1996 is pure heaven—and the robust, Cabernet-heavy Château Calon Ségur. Having the opportunity to taste a 1982 Calon Segur was an experience my palate is still nostalgic about.
What are your best tips for wine pairing? Share your knowledge below!