Jeannette LeBlanc

Food & Wine Pairing – This Comfort Food, That Wine

Wine is meant to be with food – that’s the point of it.

~ Julia Child

Wine is to food as bees are to a garden, and according to Julia a necessity. Yet the science of pairing food and wine can be something of a dry read for most of us. With comfort foods, acids and fats and salt can get tangled up in your taste buds and mess with your flavor compass. While the best adventures are often found in exploration, there are some easy-to-follow basics to help you achieve good results.

If you go back to the Greeks and Romans, they talk about all three – wine, food, and art – as a way of enhancing life. ~ Robert Mondavi

When wine was more sanitary than water it was a regular part of our diets, although with less focus on molecular matching. Food and wine were regional, making for fewer unpleasant pairings. Sangiovese was drunk with cured local meats and that Côtes-du-Rhône went well with rabbit stew. Simple, right? Add today’s global village to the equation, layer on an international cellar at most liquor retailers and top it off with our expanding culinary options in grocers or at restaurants, and flavor matching can quickly become a recipe for confusion.

Food and wine. Decide which is the soloist, which is the accompanist. ~ Michael Broadbent

Food and Wine Pairing Basics

The chemistry gets complicated but there are simple guidelines to consider when wine and food pairing – comfort or otherwise. And it’s important to decide which of the two will take center stage on your table. Is it a special bottle and you’re looking for food to showcase the wine’s best attributes? Or maybe that comfort food fix comes first. Choose who will lead this culinary foxtrot and get familiar with some of the pairing basics.

Acid: whatever level of acidity is in your food, the wine should always have more – watch for hidden acids like vinegar / vinaigrettes, citrus in dressings, and fruits.

Sweetness: forget what you might have heard about ‘red wine and chocolate’ and remember that the wine should be sweeter than what you’re eating – think late harvest or icewines with desserts, or fortified wines.

Flavor & Intensity: if wine and food is an orchestra, all the instruments need to be heard – a quiet violin Pinot Noir can be easily overwhelmed by a robust roast, so find a wine with more persistence (or a bolder Pinot).

  • Big reds love bold (or gamey) meats: there’s a reason lamb and Shiraz like to spend quality time together.
  • White wines adore subtlety: there are no tannins to cut through that big flavor profile, so white wines like to play on their more subtle nuances.

Bitter is better with fat: tannins in red wines can at times translate to bitterness and a nice helping of fat can smooth harsher edges – this is part of why bigger reds do well with those juicy steaks.

Get saucy: focus on the flavors in the sauce to guide your wine selection – a buttery sauce on that salmon might benefit from a rich Chardonnay, and the spicy zip of a curry will welcome a lower alcohol off-dry Gewürztraminer.

Opposites attract: if you’re not sure just how buttery that sauce is, try something to cut through the fat – like a higher acid white, rosé, or sparkling wine.

Remember the alcohol: part of the weight and intensity equation, alcohol can be sneaky in a well-balanced wine; that boozy warmer climate Viognier might not fit your filet of sole, but could fare well with a hefty risotto.

When I pair food and wine, I start with the food.

If I have a beautiful roasted bird, I might choose a Cabernet or Pinot Noir, or maybe a Syrah, depending on the sauce and what is in my cellar. ~ Jacques Pepin

Comfort Food Favorites: what to drink with that

Macaroni and Cheese Food and Wine Pairing Guide & Recommendations | Winetraveler.com

Macaroni and cheese

A cool weather comfort classic, and not the out-of-the-box kind but that bubbling melted gruyère and nostrala/fontina dish. Choose a higher acid, off-dry Riesling or Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Germany, or British Columbia (Canada); rosé (Cabernet Franc or Pinot Noir) from a cool climate like the Pacific Northwest (Washington) or Eastern Canada/US (Ontario/Finger Lakes); try a traditional method sparkling wine because you can.

Classic: Austrian Grüner

Adventurous: Crémant de Bourgogne

Risotto and Wine Pairing Recommendations | Winetraveler.com

Risottos

Earthy with mushrooms and creamy from cheeses, homemade risotto is like getting a warm hug on a cold day. Depending on what you choose (or don’t choose) to add, you have some flexibility. Bring on the lighter bodied red wines, like a Pinot Noir or Gamay; if white wine is in the house choose a Chardonnay or Chablis (because everyone should have a chard on hand), or that weightier Viognier.

Classic: Gamay

Adventurous: something orange (wine, that is)

RELATED: What Is Orange Wine? (It’s Not What You Think)

Pork Loin Roast Wine Pairing - Comfort Food and Wine Pairing Guide | Winetraveler.com

Pork Loin Roasts

This classic loves the classics, and that means Burgundy is its best friend. Red or white. The fat can handle the acidity of Chenin Blanc or Riesling. And go back to that food intensity principle – the richer the dish (or sauce), the bolder the wine you can choose, like an herbaceous and earthy Cabernet Franc.

Classic: Finger Lakes Cabernet Franc

Adventurous: New World Chenin Blanc (bonus points if it’s sparkling)

RELATED: 9 Amazing Finger Lakes Wineries Producing Sparkling Wine in New York

Lasagna Wine Pairing Ideas | Winetraveler.com

Lasagnas

Meats and cheeses and that acidity from tomatoes, oh my. Treat lasagna like a meaty pasta and go Italy: Sangiovese, Chianti, Nebbiolo, Barbera. Head into the new world with Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Remember the fresh mozzarella.

Classic: Chianti

Adventurous: Nebbiolo

Hearty Stew Wine Pairing Ideas | Winetraveler.com

Hearty Stews

Because the protein in stews can vary wildly, think old school local flavor matching. If your stew has a French flair, grab a bottle from a similar region. Spanish flavors call for Rioja. Or match the protein intensity with the wine intensity. Richer meats can handle a robust red from Argentina and lamb calls for Syrah/Shiraz.

RELATED: A Guide to Rioja Spain’s Wines and Sub-Regions

Classic: Rioja

Adventurous: British Columbia Syrah

Like the theater, offering food and hospitality to people is a matter of showmanship, and no matter how simple the performance, unless you do it well, with love and originality, you have a flop on your hands. ~ James Beard


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Jeannette LeBlanc
Digital Editor at Winetraveler
Jeannette LeBlanc is the Digital Editor for WineTraveler and is based in beautiful British Columbia wine country. She’s been writing about wine and food for more than a decade with digital and print publications in Canada and the US. After successfully navigating WSET 3, Jeannette worked harvest at a small BC winery to learn hands-on about the winemaking world from grape to bottle. When she isn’t writing about wine, Jeannette can be found studying for the French Wine Scholar program and sipping a glass of bubble with her spoiled cat Tippy by her side. Or she’s at the racetrack. But that’s another story.

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