The entire notion of food-wine pairing dos and don’ts has disintegrated a lot in the past few years, and I say good riddance to it, having always been the type to eat what I feel like eating and drink what I feel like drinking. Hard and fast rules don’t stand up very well to individual taste and mood, and they never did, not even back when a tuxedo-clad sommelier named Jacques informed you of what was and was not acceptable to drink with your sole meunière.
That said, certain ingredients do tend to be a little more challenging than others when it comes to harmonizing nicely with wine. Here are some of the classic offenders…and what to do about them.
The somm’s worst nightmare is often ironically the vegetable that’s been appearing on the plates of wine-besotted Mediterraneans since before Julius Caesar had that really bad day at the Forum. The problem? A compound called cynarin causes anything you eat once you’ve bitten into an artichoke to taste unnaturally sweet. Including wine. The solution? Personal opinion—and it does depend on what you’re eating with or on the artichokes—go for a dry white that expresses a lot of lemon. In Rome, artichokes are often served fried (alla Giuda) and I have found a glass (um, or a bottle) of Greco di Tufo was a very congenial accompaniment. Other very citric whites include Albarino, Garganega (the varietal in Soave), some Sauvignon Blancs (not all! Later harvest or hotter temps will create a more tropical flavor profile). One of my current recommendations is Simi Sauv Blanc 2012—pretty easy to find and very fresh).
Delicious? Yes. But the weirdo acids in asparagus (like the eponymous asparagusic acid) that make your pee smell weird can throw your wine off, too. No one wants that. All that stuff I said about “drink whatever you like”? I’m not taking it back, but I would also suggest that firm reds and oaked whites are a bad call with this tasty but difficult veggie. You want something white, cool-climate, that has not been in a long amorous relationship with an oak barrel. Sancerre is a good option. I’d try Zocker’s Gruner Veltliner, or a very dry (very dry!) Reisling.
The problem with this de rigueur brassica? In a word, sulphur. (This problem covers the whole cruciferous vegetable family, actually, so refer to this if you are pairing with cabbage or broccoli). The solution? Actually, Gruner Veltliner isn’t a bad call here, either. It’s herbaceous and it stands up with strong vegetal flavors. I also think “orange” wines are a good call here (Beauregard’s Pinot Gris has a pronounced bitter-almond character that shows the Sprout who’s boss).
The problem: capsaicin, the delightful anti-inflammatory compound that gives you the “spice high” that drives some dingbats to see how many habaneros they can cram into their mouths without fainting, also makes your tongue numb. This is a problem if you want to taste anything, including wine. Your best bet is off-dry and ice-cold. My draft pick is Pacific Rim Sweet Riesling. It’s moderately sweet, kind of peachy, and stunningly balancing to pepper-ific Asian cuisines.
Egg yolk coats the tongue and blunts the palate. Now, your mileage may vary depending on whether you’re talking about a cheese soufflé, a brunch-o’clock eggs benedict, or something else, but overall my advice is: bubbles. A good Cava, Prosecco or Cremant d’Alsace (I love Helfrich if you go with the latter). White or pink, a sparkling wine will refresh your palate and is tasty with egg dishes.
The problem? Overwhelm! Some aren’t bad—salmon, for example is a snap; tons of things pair well with it, especially Pinot Noir. But mackerel, bluefish, sardines? Super-dry whites (some pinks might fit the bill too) are probably your friend here. Try a Muscadet, a Grenache blanc, a Rhone white. If you’re on the pink side, Bonny Doon’s Vin Gris de Cigare is an affordable and elegant option.
The problem? Vinegar is what happens to wine when it’s been altered by bacteria, so it can play tricks on the tongue—also, you know, acid. Solution? Sauvignon blanc or Pinot Grigio are great at neutralizing the situation. Chenin blanc (or Vouvray) can also work.
I don’t know exactly how to put this issue, besides “flavor clash.” Best solutions? Raw tomatoes respond well to Portuguese Vinho Verdes. Our friend Albarino is a good bet here, too. Cooked tomato dishes can better withstand fruit-forward reds. Sangioveses and Super-Tuscans come to mind.
An award winning poet and longtime food and wine pornographer, Amy Glynn was first accused of being a “food snob” by her parents at age 8. Her book “A Modern Herbal” was released by Measure Press in 2013. She lives in the SF Bay Area, Ground Zero of the “Delicious Revolution.” She thinks about apples a lot. Follow her on Twitter @AmyAlysaGlynn and on Facebook here.
Photo by jenny downing CC BY