Without a doubt, complementing and even augmenting a meal is one of the primary functions of good wine. A full bodied red with steak or a crisp white wine alongside fish are classic examples of how wine and food marry in a sensory symphony. However, not every food is so easy to pair the perfect wine with and some pairings can actually be counterproductive. Here are a few examples from my experience of relatively difficult foods and the perfect wine to go with them.
Curry - Indian cuisine is a personal favorite of mine and I simply can't resist a good curry. However, the food itself really doesn't go well with too many types of wines. First off, curry displays a bewildering amount of spices often of varying flavours and levels of heat. Second, most curries actually have a fairly fatty, rich structure to them from the ghee used in most curry preparation. Third, the meat, or lack thereof, often presents an issue. You may have the gameiness of goat or lamb, the succulence of chicken, or you may have paneer (cheese) or veggies.
All this calls for a versatile wine with high acidity. My personal preference is a Riesling
, either dry (Trocken) or semi-dry (Kabinett). The very high acidity present in Riesling serves 3 key functions here: it cuts through the richness and creaminess of the curry, reduces the effects of capiscum burn and refreshes the palate. It may seem counterintuitive but the spicier the dish, the sweeter you will want the wine. The best ways to counteract capiscum and it's mouth burning effects are to have a sweet, low alcohol wine that is served as chilled as possible. With a richer, albeit less spicy dish, you may prefer a drier style of Riesling to just through the buttery and creamy aspects. Riesling, as a rule, is already incredibly versatile, but in this case it's absolutely perfect for curry.
Chocolate - Chocolate is notoriously hard to pair wine with and can actually ruin the taste of some wines when paired improperly, which is actually because it shares many of the same properties as wine. The foremost challenge is that chocolate, or rather the cocoa beans it's made from, are fermented themselves and contain a compound known as flavanols, which is a form of tannin. These are responsible for the bitter taste you find primarily in dark chocolates. Second, chocolates are almost all creamy to some degree. Milk and white obviously have quite a bit, but even dark chocolate has a richness to it.
The key is to find something complementary but not too similar. If you were to bake something with chocolate as the primary ingredient, what you want as complementary flavors? You are going to want to find a wine that has those flavors as it's predominant notes. For me, the best pairings are dessert wines
because they display far more dessert oriented flavors. Port, of almost all varieties, is an excellent pairing. It shows so many classic baking spice notes like cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove along with fig, caramel and a wondrous kaleidoscape of flavors all with a decent level of sweetness. A more off the beaten path pairing is Pedro Ximinez Sherry
. This is a darker, thicker style of Sherry that shows tons of mocha, coffee and espresso notes. Small sips of this along with a nice, quality piece of dark chocolate is a phenomenal pairing.
BBQ - I love barbecue in all it's varieties, but it can actually be quite hard to pair with. I know virtually every state has it's own unique style which can range quite widely from dryer styles to more vinegary ones. In this case I want to look at the ubiquitous, thick sauce that you would typically buy at the supermarket. We're encountering similar pairing obstacles as before: thick, rich and super flavorful. First off is the spice, most sauces will have at least a pronounced black pepper flavor, or an even hotter chili presence. Second, the sauce is thick and unctuous coating the entire mouth when consumed. Third, BBQ sauce is often quite sweet with good levels of sugar or molasses involved.
High acidity is again on call here, but instead of Riesling I would look to a red wine especially as steak, chicken, and ribs are undoubtedly on the menu. To me a classic style Syrah
is perfect. This wine actually complements many of the flavours involved. The gamey, smokey, earthy notes pair marvellously as does the trademark fresh cracked pepper. In addition the tannin structure goes well with the fatty, umami flavours found in ribs and other BBQ meats. If you want something even bigger and more tannic you can try Zinfandel