I imagine that prime rib was terribly lonely before the invention of Shiraz; that seared sea scallops would constantly post on Facebook about the tragedy of being alone, until they were swept off their shells by a perfectly chilled glass of Chardonnay.
The pairing of wine with food is serious business. Serious business I knew nothing about before a wild-eyed instructor taught me the ways of the grape. I was the first to say, “Oh no, I don’t care for wine” when it was offered to me. Being wrong so infrequently, imagine my surprise when I finally tasted a wine I loved!
The truth is, there are too many completely different wines in this world for me to ever believe someone could honest-to-goodness dislike them all. Wine really is like a good romantic comedy—you have to keep on laughing and drinking until you find the one that is perfect for you.
First, you have to start tasting wines.
There are so many advantages to knowing almost nothing about wine. I highly recommend that lack of knowledge as a starting point!
When I took my first class on the topic, I specifically recall a tasting exercise that required knowing nothing at all about each wine we were about to sip. We closed our eyes, took a drink, and wrote down the first thing we wanted to eat after we’d tried it.
It’s a fancy technique I’m proud to take part of on a regular basis. We’d go around the table and say what we’d thought of eating after tasting the very same bottle, and the results were so interesting.
One person would say, “I wanted a Reuben” and another, “definitely Pork Chops” and the best part was—they were both right. Once you find a few you like, you’ll be able to find so many others you love. You’ll learn that if you are in Argentina and you love a good Malbec, in Italy you can try a nice Chianti.
Next, you throw away the rules.
Being a rebel certainly comes easier to some of us than others, but this point is very important in the “open your mind to wine” experiment. Some of the traditional wine and food pairing rules can help you get started in the right direction, but you cannot let them hold you back.
As you experiment, you’ll find your favorites. More importantly, you’ll find your least favorites. All of this is helpful, especially when you start to notice which wines you prefer with which types of cuisine. You may be unsure, on paper, which wine to serve with a dish; but, you’ll know in practice. When you taste a wine with a food it just doesn’t belong with—you will know intuitively. The point of throwing away the rules is learning to trust yourself and your very own taste buds. No sommelier in the world can force you to like something that you don’t.
Then, listen to the experts.
You may think this point is contradictory to the last, but it’s all about the order, my friends.
Once you learn your general likes and dislikes, you will be able to sift through any specific recommendations. If you know you prefer a good Riesling over a buttery Chardonnay, you can get some pointers on the very best Riesling. What is important here is to have an open mind. You may find yourself completely enjoying a beautiful, dry Syrah with a perfectly cooked duck breast before you know it.
Finally, find food and wine experiences to deepen your insight.
Once you’ve learned what you like and what you don’t, you can dive a little deeper into the world of wine pairing.
A good restaurant will not only have a great wine list, but a sommelier or wine expert who will build that wine list around the chef’s great dishes. It’s important to have a chef and sommelier who work hand in hand to considers things like taste and season.
For example, if a wine is indigenous to the southern part of Italy, think of how that will compliment a risotto full of flavors from that very same part of the earth. If the wine and food have grown up together, you may find them to be inseparable for good reason. Try what makes sense, learn from the experience, and keep in mind that some of the greatest wine and food combinations are just happy accidents.