PORTLAND --- Food and wine are a terrific pair. But how and why?
Frederick Armstrong, an Oregon wine consultant, discussed wine and food pairings in an education session this morning at the Northwest Foodservice Show.
Rule No. 1: There are no rules.
Rule No. 2: If the customer wants white wine with red meat, the customer gets white wine with red meat. And vice versa. For instance, Armstrong said, pinot noir and salmon are a great combo -- the light acid in the wine balancing the fat in the fish. Meanwhile, the ripe, fruity acidity of a German Riesling rubs pork belly the right way.
To figure out which wine works with which food, Armstrong recommends considering dominant flavors in both the food and the wine and finding a balance. Take a bite of food. Don't swallow. Take a sip of wine. Don't swallow. Which taste dominates? The food? The wine? You want balance, Armstrong said.
Another of Armstrong's recommendations is to match the weight of foods and wine. Think of wine and food like milk. Lighter wines and food are like skim milk: beef broth, grilled chicken, strawberry sorbet; champagne, muscadet, pinot gris; and gamays, pinot noirs; Grenaches. Medium-heavy wines and food are like whole milk: French onion soup, fried chicken, strawberry ice cream; Sauvignon Blancs, viogniers, Chardonnays; Zinfandels, Cabernets, Shirazes.
Also consider the weight and the cooking methods: A poached chicken breast will taste lighter than a grilled chicken breast, whose caramelized flavors weigh on palate.
A crisp Riesling paired with sausage or roast goose cuts the fat and oil in those dishes.
Armstrong also recommends complementing sweet flavors in savory dishes with sweet elements in wines and combining bitter foods with higher-tannin wines. Want to complement that citrusy splash on fish? Try a high-acid wine.
Bitter foods decrease acidity in wine. Contrast bitter food with fruity wine.
Be careful of sweet food. Armstrong said they're tough on wine, decreasing sweetness in the wine.
Umami flavors, particularly from mushrooms but also in rare steaks, can bring out bitterness in wines. Armstrong recommended a dash of salt or a splash of lemon in the dish to counter-balance umami's effect, as salt reduces tartness in wine.
Spicy foods boost bitter and acidic traits in wine. Pair spicy foods with low-alcohol and low-tannin wines. Slightly sweet wines work with spicy food, too.
Champagne and caviar is a classic combination, for a reason, Armstrong said: the crispness of the champagne cuts the saltiness of the caviar.
Armstrong put some dishes on his PowerPoint screen. He asked the audience to come up with wine pairings. Here are the results
Pan-fried crab cakes with mustard béarnaise:
Viognier because it's sweet enough to complement the crab and full-bodied enough to stand up to the zesty richness of the sauce.
A crisp Savignon Blanc or a not-too-oaky Chardonnay. Or a ripe and fruity pinot gris.
For red lovers, a dry rose or a Beaujolais.
Roasted saddle of lamb with rosemary, thyme and mustard crust:
Bordeaux is the classic pairing, Armstrong said, but he warmed up to the recommendations of a Columbia Valley syrah from Washington. He warned, however, that an Aussie Shiraz would be "too furry" for the job.
Duck confit on a bed of greens with raspberry vinaigrette:
This being Oregon, everyone voted for pinot noir, which has enough acidity to cut the duck's fat.
Roast rack veal with porcini mushrooms:
Medium-weight reds with cherry notes like Barberas, Chianti, and Barrolos won the crowd's vote.
Herb-crusted halibut cheeks seared with caramelized onion sauce:
A ripe, moderately oaky California Chardonnay could stand up to the onions but not overpower the fish. Some people thought a Riesling or a dry chenin blanc worked, too.
Ahi tuna with avocado and mango relish:
Armstrong advocated for the melon-citrus notes of Oregon pinot noir, which can also stand up to the fat in the fish and the fruit.