Now, here’s the truth: yes, there is an art to pairing food and wine. But it’s an intuitive art. It’s also subjective, which means that it’s alright if two people agree to disagree. There are, however, a few basic cardinal rules and they are listed below. Outside of these, anything that steals your fancy is fair game.
* Light wines go with light dishes. This transcends the veg/non-veg debate. You can have fish with red wine if the preparation is rich enough to require so. Similarly, certain lamb dishes can be had with luscious barrel-fermented and aged white wines. Match intensity of flavours, not colour or principle ingredient.
* Nothing is worse than being served a dry wine with sweet dishes. The old Champenoise (people from Champagne, not people who drink too much Champagne, mostly because there’s nothing like too much Champagne) are much to blame. They keep trying to serve dry (Brut) Champagnes with desserts and ruin both wine and cake for us. The simple rule of thumb: the wine must be comparably sweet with the dish at hand, else the dish will make the wine seem astringent and sour. So avoid a dry wine with a sweet dish, no matter the colour or occasion.
* OK, there is one thing worse than the point above and that’s serving a tannic dry wine with sweet dishes. Nothing strips away at the balance and harmony of your palate than being asked to spoon the chocolate mousse with whatever remains of the main course red. If it were up to me, I’d sip through the wine and finish it before ordering dessert.
* A sweet wine with a savoury fat-rich dish, however, can be done. This is because a sweet wine isn’t just about the sugar, but also a lot about the acidity, the crisp tartness that, hidden as it may seem, is what keeps the clawing syrupy aspect of the wine in check. It is this acidity that balances out the greasy element in the dish. Heard of foie gras and Sauternes? Well, this is the principle that guides that classic pairing.
* Soups and eggs are best off not being paired. The reasons are simple. Eggs leave an unmistakable smell in the glass (once you eat an egg and sip from a glass) so it ruins the wines bouquet. And with soups, the hot-cold temperature isn’t always a pleasure. Also, as soups shrink from being a legit course to mostly a course-breaker, or a palate cleanser in some cases, there is no need to dedicate an entire glass of wine to it. Either continue the previous wine (from the starter) or serve a wine now to lead into the next course.
Follow these cardinal rules and you will never get it too wrong. And always remember the most important rule of pairing: don’t impose your choices on others. Your likings may not correspond with your guests’. Accommodate for this. The best pairing for a successful evening is the company it is enjoyed with. Don’t lose out on that in the long run.
The writer is a sommelier