Wine drinkers face a constant barrage of rules regarding their enjoyment of wine with food. “Thou shalt not eat fish with Cabernet Sauvignon,” is oftentimes considered a guiding principle when pairing wine with food. Drinking Riesling with a marbled steak is punishable by death-through-mockery in many circles.
Rules may establish order in a frantic world. But, when it comes to many axioms about how to appropriately pair wine with food, it’s total chaos out there.
“No single person is qualified to tell you what you should, or should not, experience with your own food and wine journey.” — Tim Hanni.
The sentiment that there are classic wine and food pairings to be adhered to as a consumer is laced throughout the food and beverage world. Which begs the question: what is the historical knowledge that determined what is classic, and what is not?
“Classic wine and food pairings just . . . aren’t,” says local Bend resident, Tim Hanni, who has devoted a lifetime of research regarding the concept of food and wine.
Hanni, one of just 355 people in the world with the Master of Wine (MW) certification, references the heralded culinary encyclopedia Larousse Gastronomique for a timeline of historical combinations of food and wine. Originally published in 1938, this culinary bible highlights a framework for fine dining that includes sipping on red wine in between courses simply to rinse the palate, and drinking sweet wines with the main meal. This concept sharply deviates from how we are told to enjoy our wine with food today.
The international traditions of the table also underscore that the concept of classic is outdated. Sangria, a sweet wine mixture originally from Spain, has been enjoyed for centuries. Kir, a recipe of adding a little water and sugar to strongly flavored wines, has been enjoyed as a pre-dinner drink in France for hundreds of years, and remains a popular aperitif.
“Referencing sweet wines as dessert wines doesn’t do the consumer any favors,” says Hanni.
According to Hanni, the dessert wine category in the United States was created by the federal government as a tax bracket loophole, leaving many potential sweet wine drinkers to believe that they can only be enjoyed after dinner.
Fine-dining restaurant patrons who ask for wine recommendations with their meal are frequently told that steak and red wine are a perfect combination, as the protein and fat in a Ribeye will make a wine smooth. If one has ever experimented with this “classic” wine and food pairing, they will find that isolating a bite of fatty steak with a sip of wine, especially one with a higher tannin level, will make the wine taste more astringent, not less. However, when the Ribeye is complemented by other taste profiles on the plate, like a squeeze of lemon to finish the preparation, or the sprinkle of salt over roasted potatoes, this astringency is reduced.
But, we are not limited to just red wine with steak. Germany, recognized as a quality producer of Riesling, produces a high volume of Pinot Noir. There, it is more common to sip on Riesling with one’s steak than it is to sip on Pinot Noir!
The global and historical practices of pairing wine with food are not the same all over the world; the concept of “classic” isn’t very classic, as it turns out. While we live in a world of rules and regulations, there is no punishment for drinking the wines you actually want to drink with the food that you are eating.
“No single person is qualified to tell you what you should, or should not, experience with your own food and wine journey,” relays Hanni.