There are a few conversations I have had on repeat for the last four plus years in our Ventura County tasting room; I can’t imagine it’s different anywhere else. One of which is “What food would you pair with this wine, steak, barbecue?” And I usually laugh and say, “I’ll take your word for it, I’m vegetarian.” It’s funny how people assume that when we pair wine, we should be pairing it with a protein. I’m not going to get into the major annoyance of people asking me where I get my protein, instead I want to share with you the beauty of wine pairing, regardless of your food restrictions, preferences or diets. Even though this conversation sometimes leads to, “Well what would you pair it with?” and I laugh off the question by saying, “I like to drink my calories!” The honest answer is that the same rules apply when pairing wine and food. You’re going to want to pay attention to sweetness levels, acidity levels, fullness of flavor, spiciness, and the weight and texture of the food. So heavy goes with heavy and light goes with light. You don’t want to pair a light wine with a heavy food, because the wine will disappear. In contrast, you would not want to pair a heavy wine with a light dish because it will kill the flavor of the meal. Regardless of your meal being vegetarian, vegan, or meat based, you’ll want to be mindful. Proper pairing can change your attitude towards a wine you may normally not prefer, once you experience the magic that happens mid bite… or vice versa.
Remember that the Mediterranean, which is popular for its wine, was historically more vegetarian. Meat was not readily available to most people. Poverty was rampant, and this meant you ate what you grew. Wine was not an addition to a meal, as it is today, wine was just as much of a staple as anything else on the table. Wine and food were not separate. According to the amazing and informative podcast, “Wine for Normal People”, What grows together goes together. Test this theory. If you are eating, say a tomato based meal, like pasta, or pizza, you can’t go wrong with an Italian red. That being said, you can absolutely sub in our California wines, in fact, I highly recommend it! Our Cabernet Sauvignons, Cabernet Franc, Nebbiolo and Merlot are each lovely when eating an Italian meal. Our fruity but dry Mourvedre Rose turns a simple salad into a delicacy. (Leave out the vinegar based dressing though!!! Vinegar can ruin the wine, and destroy the meal.) Both of our Cabernet Sauvignons complement a meal like a mushroom garlic dish, particularly if it’s sautéed. This has just as much to do with the flavor as the weight of the dish.
There are other important factors when pairing wine and food, and sticking with the origin is not fool proof. For instance, if you like spicy food, it’s not recommended to pair your meal with high alcohol wines. This will heat up the food! Depending on the type of spice, say a stir fry with soy sauce, you’ll want a fruity Merlot. Curry can use a little cooling down, so a more fruity wine like an Albarino is a lovely option. (Lucky for us, we have Albarino grapes coming in this year!) If your food is more heavy or creamy, you might lean towards a more acidic wine like a Chenin Blanc (acidity refers to the tart or sour attributes and balances the sweetness or bitterness of the wine). Eating a root vegetable dish would pair well with a more earthy wine, like Malbec. I may not be a foodie, but I know what tastes good, because I know what smells good. My husband and two out of my three kiddos are omnivores, so I cook carnivorous cuisine pretty regularly. I have learned to use my nose to season food, even when I won’t be eating it. I was trained from a young age to trust my nose. This has served me incredibly well with pairing wine and food. People always give asparagus and wine a bad rep, but I think a Sauvignon Blanc pairs really nicely if it has greener notes. The same goes for bell pepper.
Pairing food and wine brings something special to the table. Tasting wine can spark that light-bulb in your head that reminds you of certain flavors or experiences. Certain scents can bring us back to childhood, for me, every time I smell eucalyptus it takes me right back to being a three year old, running through the trees with my favorite dog, Coop. Cinnamon brings me back to Disneyland, when I met “the real” Snow White. Hay is my grandmother’s ranch in Oregon with the mean chickens, and the nose on Gewurztraminer is the first hotel room my husband and I ever stayed in together, when we accidentally overfilled the bubble bath. If scents can capture moments and freeze them in time, why don’t we spend more time making these memories? In this day and age we are always on the move, too often eating on the go, or in front of the television. We give very little energy into how to nourishing ourselves. Part of nourishing is taking a bite, and actually chewing. Stopping and smelling the aromas in front of you, and the aromas in your glass. Nourishing is in the relationships to those sitting around the table with you, the conversation, the connection. I challenge you to find a day this week to pick a wine and prepare a special meal, taking note of these simple rules. You don’t have to be a gourmet chef to whip up a hearty lasagna, toss a salad, or throw together a spicy chili. Just be mindful of your flavors, scents, and spices. And share it with someone you love.
Author’s note: My name is Justine and I have been working in the tasting room at Strey Cellars for over four years. We are a small family owned local boutique winery. If this is your first visit to my blog, you’ll notice that I write as if we are old friends, because this is the energy of our winery. Come visit sometime, and see for yourself. If you enjoyed this blog, please share it with a friend. Cheers!