By contributing writer Mary Cressler
Food and wine pairing? Or wine and food pairing? That is the question.
For most people, when they think about food and wine pairing, it’s usually about finding a wine based on the dinner they are preparing that night, or a wine to pair with the dish they are ordering in a restaurant.
But I often find myself in the opposite predicament: choosing the wine first, knowing it’s what I want to drink that night, then having to find (or create) a dish that will compliment that wine.
If you have a wine you already know and love, you are already familiar with its characteristics, which will, in turn, make it easier for you to find a suitable pairing.
But what if it’s a wine you purchased from a winery or store, and you aren’t too familiar with it but still want to create a good pairing? What if it’s a type of wine that can taste entirely different based on where it is from or how it’s made — like Chardonnay?
Not all Chardonnays are created equal. In fact, I might even argue that there are more styles of Chardonnay than possibly any other single variety out there.
Chardonnay is grown all over the world, in both cool climates and warm, can be fermented and aged in oak barrels or stainless steel tanks, and can be turned into the most sought after white wines and Champagnes in the world as well as some of most cheap overoaked disasters. They can be consumed young or aged for several years. But for the majority of wine drinkers out there, the Chardonnays they drink on a regular basis fall into two categories, young unoaked ones and young oaked ones.
So instead of starting with a recipe, then recommending wines like I usually do, I decided to start with the wine and then come up with something that will match the personalities of the wine. I chose two wines actually, a young unoaked Chardonnay from France, and a young oaked Chardonnay from California.
2012 Louis Jadot Mâcon-Villages, Burgundy, France ($15)
Style: Young, unoaked Chardonnay from the cool climate Burgundy region of France
Very fresh with aromas of green apple, lemon, and lemon zest, with lots of mineral notes on the palate, and good acidity. Overall, fresh, bright, and clean, with the fruit mostly on the nose and minerality on the palate. It also has a little weight to it.
I wanted something to bring out the fruit but also something acidic, since I knew the wine could stand up to an acidic dish. I went with a grilled shrimp salad with avocado and apple and a light citrusy vinaigrette.
I chose shrimp because white Burgundy wines tend to pair very well with shellfish, and I love the firm texture and butteriness of shrimp. The wine displayed lots of apple and citrus, so I added some of those components to the salad to compliment the wine. I added avocado to give the salad a bit of a creamy texture to offset the acidity from the dressing and the wine. The almonds were added for crunch and a mild toasty flavor.
Overall, having similar components, the wine and salad really played off each other well, enhancing each other’s characteristics, and the avocado was a great addition.
- ½ pound peeled, deveined, shrimp
- ½ bag arugula (approx 3 cups)
- ½ avocado, sliced
- ½ small apple, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup shaved almonds
- salt & pepper, to taste
- 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon
- salt and pepper to tast
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
- a splash of balsamic vinegar (optional)
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- salt & pepper, to taste
- Mix together the marinade ingredients and place the raw shrimp in a bowl with the marinade. Toss until the shrimp are coated.
- Cook the shrimp. We chose to grill by putting the shrimp on two metal skewers and grilling for about three minutes each side over direct heat.
- Place all vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl and whisk together well.
- Place the arugula in a large bowl and toss with the vinaigrette.
- Serve up the salad in individual plates, then layer with the almonds, avocado, and apple slices. Top with grilled shrimp.
2012 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay, California ($10)
Style: Young, oaked, Chardonnay from warmer climate
One thing to remember with oaked Chardonnays in general, especially from California, is that they’re not all created equal. This wine shows use of oak, but it’s not overpowering or distracting. You certainly notice it, along with some sweet vanilla aromas, but it’s balanced out by some bright tropical pineapple, lemon, and pear aromas. The wine is creamy and slightly rich on the palate with some buttery flavors and more citrus. I found it for $10, and I’d say it’s a pretty great deal for that price.
I wanted to celebrate this richer, textured style of Chardonnay by creating a dish equally rich and indulgent with cream and spices. It would have certainly gone quite well with a creamy fettuccini alfredo dish or even roasted chicken.
But with two toddlers living in my house, I decided to make a dish that both adults and children alike could swoon over. So I made a rich and creamy macaroni and cheese dish with chunks of grilled chicken and crunchy smoky bacon.
The dish itself (much like the wine) was not over the top in flavor or power. Instead, it was balanced with a good amount of rich cream base, cheeses, and spice. It also had a crunchy breaded topping that complimented the oak and nutmeg to balance out the vanilla spice notes in the wine.
The wine had a nice creaminess that was a great match for the dish. And the cheeses and nutmeg flavor of the dish brought out more sweet oak characteristics of the wine. And don’t think bacon is just for big red wines. This wine had the weight and spice to stand up to a small amount of bacon in the dish.
Wine and Food Pairing
In both examples, I took the stand out characteristics of the wine and created a dish that would compliment those qualities.
Next time you wish to start with the wine and then create a dish for it, try to get to know the wine first. Write down what stands out (is it fruit? spice? earth characteristics? or is it a texture?), and then try to mimic those flavors or textures in the dish and see how they pair.
What about you? Do you choose the wine first, then the meal? Or do you start with the meal, and then look for a wine to pair?
We hope you enjoy our wine pairing choices. If you want to know which wines YOU will like best, download the FREE iPhone app Wine4.Me. Tell it what wines you know you like and get your own personalized rankings of best-selling, widely available wines in the US.
Mary Cressler is a Certified Sommelier, a Wine Location Specialist, and the proprietor of Vindulge: Wine Education & Consulting. She conducts wine classes and events and offers consulting for individuals, restaurants, and event planners.
She writes about wine, food, and travel on her blog Vindulge. Mary resides in Portland, Oregon with her husband, twin boys, and two Chihuahuas.