Serious Grape: A Week of Food and Wine Pairings
As a relative newcomer to the Serious Eats family, I've been gobbling up the feeds and learning about the interests of my fellow contributors. Two things I know for sure already: these people love food, and boy, can they cook.
Every now and again a Serious Eats recipe flashes across my computer screen and I think to myself, "Oh, [fill in the grape here] would go great with that dish!"
So I decided to give you a week's worth of food and wine pairing suggestions, all of which began with an inspiring recipe on this site. I don't adhere to many traditional "wine and food pairing rules," like no red wine with fish, so I'm including a white wine and a red wine recommendation for each. And, because food and wine pairing can be intimidating, I'm going to explain exactly why I chose the wines I did.
Mustard-Baked Chicken with a Pretzel Crust: The tangy, sharp, and spicy taste of mustard always makes me think of Merlot or Chardonnay. The reason why is that both wines--though dry--give off a sweet impression and provide an excellent contrast with the mustard. Both wines are medium- to full-bodied, so no matter which you choose, you've got a wine that will pair nicely with this dish's succulent chicken.
Linguine with Crab and Chile: This was an interesting challenge, with its silky pasta, rich crab, acidic tomatoes, and fiery notes of hot pepper. Here I'd go with one of two easily-found Spanish wines: either a zingy Albariño or a deep and fruity Grenache-based rosé. Both are terrific with the salty yet rich flavors of shellfish, both have the acidity to stand up to tomatoes, and both have enough soft fruit flavors to handle that chili.
Thai Beef Rolls with Sweet Chile Sauce: This recipe made my mouth water the moment I saw the picture and read the ingredients. But it's a great example of why red meat doesn't always have to go with red wine. Here the sweet chili spice and the basil will be fantastic with a light, refreshing French sparkling wine from Burgundy. If you do want to have a red wine, chill down a French Gamay from the Beaujolais. Both wines have the fruity and herbal aromas and flavors that will bring out the best in this dish.
Summer Panzanella: One of my favorite Italian dishes is made with stale bread, fresh tomatoes, and lots of basil. Tomatoes are surprisingly difficult to match with wine--its because they're both sweet and acidic. I like fresh tomatoes with Pinot Blanc or with chilled Lambrusco. Don't think yuck--you need a wine that is fresh and still tinged with sweetness, and both Pinot Blanc and Lambrusco fit the bill.
Seared Lamb Salad: Grilled lamb is one of my favorite foods. Cook it with soy, garlic, mint, and serve it on fresh greens? Heaven. With grilled lamb I normally recommend Syrah, but with a salad that involves mint, Sauvignon Blanc is another great option. In either case, what you are looking for is a wine that is soft, round, and fruity to bring out the marvelous sweet texture of the lamb and the freshness of the greens.
Pasta with Roasted Eggplant and Tomato: This is a rustic, full-flavored dish with some smokey undertones and some sweetness from the tomatoes. With this dish, I'd go with simple, rustic wines from Italy, perhaps an Aglianico if you wanted a red or a Pecorino if you are interested in a white. Both wines will have lots of fruit (blueberry and pear respectively) and a bright acidity that will cut through the smoky sweetness of the vegetables.
Dragon's Chicken Wings: Grilled spicy wings? If you're looking for a wine look no further than a juicy Riesling or Grenache. Both wines have enough fruit to cope with spices, and Grenache is particularly good with grilled food. But it's their lip-smacking juiciness that will make them such great partners for these slow-burn wings.
I'd be interested to know if these recipes conjured up a different possible (or actual) wine pairing idea. Everybody's palate is different, so your notion of the perfect partnership of food and wine may vary. The important thing is to have fun, take some chances, and remember that there are no hard and fast rules to food and wine pairing.
It just has to taste good to you.