Why does the old wine adage exist of choosing a white wine to match white meat and a red wine to match red meat? Frequently, adhering to that generalization can prove disappointing, or at least deprive the diner of some food and wine pairings that are magical. White wines tend to be lighter in weight or body than red wines. White meat, such as chicken and fish, tend to play a role in lighter dishes, and red meat such as beef and lamb tends to be the base of heavier dishes. Lighter wines match better with lighter dishes and heavier wines with heavier dishes so that the food and wine are in harmony with each other and neither dominates. So it’s a weight issue and not any color coding that’s important.
For instance, a heavier tuna steak or salmon filet should be better suited to match a heavier white wine like a Chardonnay from the Castel or Lewinsohn wine boutiques or a Viognier from Yatir or Yarden wineries, but would overwhelm a lighter Sauvignon Blanc from Gush Etzion or Galil Mountain that is ideal for lighter white fish such as haddock, denis (sea-bream) or flounder. Also, a lighter red like Pinot Noir has proven to be a classic match for heavier fish dishes like salmon and Ahi tuna, so much so that sushi restaurants could be considered negligent if at least one Pinot Noir doesn’t appear on their wine list. Pinot Noir also crosses the color line to fly in formation with chicken, duck and turkey. That same Pinot Noir from Yarden or Vitkin wineries might go nicely with a lean cut of beef, but be overwhelmed by a more marbled cut that would play better with a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon from Barkan or from the boutique Margalit and Saslove wineries.
Additionally, one should take into consideration how the dish is being prepared when considering the wine. Boiling or sautéing for instance is a lighter method than grilling. The sauce and seasoning also play a dramatic role. Barbecue sauce could and probably would overwhelm many white wines whether on chicken or beef, so a big and bold fruity wine like Binyamina’s Shiraz or Carmel’s Petite Sirah or a Zinfandel from Dalton should stand up to a lot of outdoor grilled entrees, and often-present notes of black pepper would marry well with barbecue sauces, grilled meats or vegetables.
Once you master the matching of the weight and flavors of a dish to a wine, there are other elements to consider. Acidity is a key component in wine and it is what makes a good wine taste vibrant. When matching a dish with high acidity to a wine, you should attempt to pair the dish with a wine known for high acidity lest the wine comes off as flabby. Sauvignon Blanc is a great choice for a white wine to match many puckering vinegar dressings on salads. Most offer a base of citric flavors and crisp acidity and often are complemented with grassy herbs and even green pepper. A Cabernet Franc from Recanati, Psagot or Tanya wineries can be a great red alternative as it is known for its acidity and herbal nuances.
On the other hand, matching spicy food with wine can appear to be trickier than it really is. Most hosts will give up after a few tries and settle for a beer or soft drink Two good rules to follow when the dish is spicy hot are to find a wine lower in alcohol and higher in sugar. If you have a higher alcohol beverage with a spicy dish the alcohol tends to amplify the hotness and it is like putting fuel on a fire. Sweeter wines, like a semi-dry Riesling from Carmel or Gewurztraminer from Tishbi, typically have lower alcohol than most table wines because the sweetness comes from residual sugar that wasn’t fermented. Additionally, sweet and spicy are great flavor matches often found in sauces from Mexico, Thailand, India to Japan.
Another clue to good food and wine pairing is to match wines or the wine grapes from certain regions themselves with the dishes from those regions, with the previous rules in mind. Most wines are developed hand-in-hand, with foods from that region. As an example, when trying to find a match for pasta in tomato sauce you might choose a wine made from the red Sangiovese grape. It’s the principal red grape from Italy’s Chianti region, and Chianti wines are a staple of Italian restaurants worldwide. The Gamla and Teperburg labels provide two popular examples.
Last but not least is matching a wine to go with dessert. Too often it’s an afterthought. The simple rule here is to match a wine that is sweeter than the dessert, much like matching an acidic wine with an acidic dish, so the wine doesn’t taste flat. A common violation of this reliable rule is matching a dry Champagne with wedding cake. It’s a waste of expensive bubbly when a less expensive sweet Moscato, often half the price or less, will do a better job. Dalton, Tabor and Teperburg offer affordable and delectable Moscatos that are up to the task. Sweet red dessert wines from Tishbi and Odem Mountain would pair well with red and black fruit based desserts as well as chocolate treats. White dessert wines from Yarden and Tzuba would aptly accompany white fruit desserts as well as vanilla and nutty-flavored fare.
There are books full of more specific suggestions, but this expansion of the basic pairing premise should provide you with a much wider array of opportunities to try wines and dishes in a more favorable light. On their own, a great meal or a great wine can be delightful but paired properly together they can portray a tiny slice of heaven.
David Rhodes is a consulting sommelier & wine educator living in Raanana. You can contact him with your questions about wine at firstname.lastname@example.org