Wine industry folk who work the retail side have a duty to give these recommendations serious thought before doling them out. It might come as a surprise to some of them, but the ‘goes well with fish’ shelf tag really isn’t that helpful. Most wine goes well with fish if the preparation is appropriate.
Instead, I like to approach wine pairings with two questions: what are you serving and what are your personal tastes like? I take the answers and then work towards the point in the middle where the two meet.
Despite what consumers are told, there are very few absolute ‘no’s’ when it comes to pairing wine with food. Most pairing comes down to fine tuning the choices to come up with the wine that best accentuates the food and vice versa. My friend John is fond of breaking the ice by telling the shopper “don’t worry, the wine police won’t ride up and ticket you if you don’t choose the optimal wine”.
Imagine that the answers to the two questions are: #1: we’re serving risotto with sweet corn and halibut cheeks and #2: I like buttery Chardonnay but I also don’t mind Sauvignon Blanc. Well this dish sounds delicious and is a white wine lovers dream to pair with wine.
My first thought is that this person likes creamy-textured wines but doesn’t mind acidity if they also like Sauvignon Blanc. This opens a very beautiful door to either white Burgundy or Oregon Chardonnay. For the sake of argument, let’s say Oregon, with it’s more generously textured Chardonnay and common use of French oak. The subtleties of French oak are preferable to those of American oak when pairing with food; when oak is applied heavily to a wine, it can easily overpower your food.
For pairing with that sweet and creamy risotto, first I would suggest the 2010 Evening Land Mad Hatter Chardonnay. It’s lemony accents would brighten up and cut through the rich texture of the risotto; cleaning your palate for another buttery bite.
Alternately, bubbles pair famously well with creamy dishes. And since this one also features a liberal amount of aged Parmigiano-Reggiano, a glass of top notch sparkling wine would play nicely against it’s salty character. As well, the decadent sweetness of both the halibut cheeks and sweet corn would be matched perfectly by the ripe red fruits of a Brut rosé. With those things in mind, I would also recommend the 2007 J. Albin Brut Rosé.
The best advice I can give about pairing food with wine is be creative, keep an open mind and don’t worry about picking the wrong wine. Some of the best combinations I’ve experienced were not necessarily things that I would have planned on serving together, but happened to meet unplanned at the table. Once you’ve taken an inventory of the basic flavors at play in your food – sweet, sour, salty, bitter, umami – you can start extrapolating out from there. Match the levels of sweetness with your wine, try to play off of the richness, acidity and saltiness and most of all keep experimenting!