On pairing with wine

When I was first learning about wine following a six week trip around France, many books (and pundits) made suggestions about how to pair food with wine.  The trouble was, the wine that I liked (big, interesting reds) were never mentioned with the foods that I cook (non-meat).  So, I had a problem: either I would have to start drinking Riesling only or I would have to make up new rules.  In a sense, I discovered that the old rules were hogwash, that it was ridiculous that a tannic red required a nice cut of beef.  We, and all of our friends, have no trouble simply sipping the big reds after or indeed before dinner. However, there are some general principles that we now follow.

The first principle is to drink what you like.  This sounds a bit apparent, but many people look to others to guide them rather than simply trying different wines and remembering the ones that they like (and buying more).  Palettes are surprisingly different, and all are equally valid from an enjoyment perspective.

The second principle is to select a wine from the same region as the food.  If you are serving orrechiete pasta with ricotta forte, pour a Salento rosato.  And if you are making a southwest France style vegetarian stew, pour a Madiran or Cahors.  Or if perhaps you have made a Provençal style soupe aux légumes, select a Bandol or a Côtes-du-Rhone.  Fun and easy!

The third principle is to observe what locals drink with their food.  On our first trip to Napoli (in July), we ordered red wine with our pizza, only to discover that we were the only ones in the entire place to do so.  All of the locals were drinking beer, as it was too hot for wine.  Likewise, in Salento during the summer, the wine of choice is rosato, as the reds are too alcoholic for 35° C. days.  Similarly, the house wine is almost always the perfect choice.

For those food regions that do not have a strong wine tradition, there usually is something that will work.  For example, nothing beats a great local IPA [beer] with spicy Indian food, or an off-dry wine [like a La Frenz Alexandria from British Columbia] with Thai food.  But experiment, experiment, experiment… and remember principle number one above!

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