I talked to 3 highly esteemed Master Sommeliers: Bobby Stuckey, MS, founder of Frasca Food and Wine and Scarpetta Wine, Dustin Wilson, MS of Perus Wine Company, Anvil Wine Company, and Mason Pacific, and Brahm Callahan, MS of Himmel Hospitality Group !
Wine’s ability to take food to another level is one of its exceptional qualities. There’s something very special about good wine and food pairings that, when understood, can create a perfectly harmonious relationship between flavors. The taste sensation created from a sip of wine after a bite of food can make a meal infinitely more enjoyable. Unfortunately, not all wine and food pairings are successful. In fact, pairing the wrong wine with a dish can bring out the worst in both the food and wine - not exactly what you’d like to experience at your next dinner party.
Learning which combinations will complement each other can be a challenge and requires understanding the layers of flavor in both the wine and the dish. We are extremely lucky to have these three distinguished wine industry professionals here to help us out! They’ve been kind enough to share their pairing knowledge as well as some of their favorite pairings that I know the Keeper team can’t wait to try!
Let us know what you think about these pairing suggestions and make sure to share your favorite pairings with us!
What are the main wine and food characteristics that should be considered when pairing?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: Heat (does the food have spice to it?) High alcohol and high spice don’t mix.
How balanced the dish is? (in terms of salinity, acid, fat).
If you’re dealing with a tannic wine, think of the proteins your’e dealing with. Sometimes tannic wines don’t do well with fish – it amps up the "fishiness".
How much new wood is in the wine? New wood (think oaky Napa Chardonnay) does not always play well with others. For example, a new world Chardonnay from California might not be fun with super briny oysters.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: Weight and intensity of the wine should match the intensity of the food. In other words, full-flavored foods need full-flavored wines and light foods need light wines. That is priority number one for me!
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: I usually think about the biggest flavors on the plate with spicy BBQ, for example, the sauce is important) and the accompaniments rather than the protein. If there are a bunch of vegetables on the plate then they are going to need more attention than whatever the protein may be. Then making sure there is enough fat (in the form of butter, cream, oil, etc…) to stand up the tannins in the wine (in the case of a red) or have the acidity of the wine cut through the same fat.
Which wine qualities bring out layers of flavor within various dishes?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: Wine has a wonderful way of bringing out flavor nuances. A great example: a marbled piece of beef becomes even more complex when paired with a tannic red wine.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: If the structure of the wine mimics that of the food, what you'll be left with is just the delicious flavors of the food and the wine itself. For instance if you have fatty red meat, you want a red wine with some tannin. The tannins will attach themselves to the fat and you'll just be left with the flavor of the meat and the fruity flavors of the wine.
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: Oak for me is a big one: depending on what kind, how much new oak was used, toast level, the age of the wine and how the oak has integrated, it all results in different flavor profiles and combinations.
What are some general rules of thumb when picking a wine to pair with your meal?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: My favorite rule of thumb is "if it grows together, it goes together." Some great examples are Nebbiolo & white truffles, pesto & Vermintino, Sangiovese & Bistecca Fiorentina.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: First and foremost, I drink wines that I like. It might not always be the perfect "pairing" but as long as it's good enough with the food, that's alright by me. Don't be afraid to do that! Second, I look at the ingredients of the dish and try to mimic those flavors with the wine. For instance if I have some crudo in front of me that has citrus and maybe some herbs on it (like tarragon or cilantro), I'd snag a Sancerre or Gruner as they both have green/herbal aromas and flavors.
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: Think like with like: if you are making a dish that has a historical home, figure out what they traditionally drank there and odds are it will be a pretty good pairing.
What are some classic pairings that you enjoy?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: My all time favorite classic pairing is Tocai Friulano and Prosciutto San Daniele. That, or Malvasia Istriana and Riso Marinara.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: Roasted duck and Northern Rhone Syrah. All the way!
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: Red burgundy with game birds, an amazing combination.
What are some of your favorite wine and food pairings that you have tried lately?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: We just added a new pasta “Fazzoletti” to our menu, a beautifully delicate egg pasta which translates to “handkerchief”. We serve it with Summer Squash, Clams and Chive. It goes great with aged Vitovska. We are pairing it with 2005 Edi Kante Vitovska.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: Frappato and pizza!
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: Barolo and Tarajin, a local pasta in Piedmont that is classic with Nebbiolo.
What is the most unusual wine and food pairing that was amazing?
BOBBY STUCKEY, MS: Chilled dry Fino Sherry with barnacle gelee at El Bulli around 2000. It was amazing.
DUSTIN WILSON, MS: At Eleven Madison Park, we had this Foie Gras dish that was super savory and had roasted sunchokes, sunchoke chips, sunchoke puree and this aged Sherry vinegar drizzled lightly on the plate. A vintage Verdelho Madeira knocked it out of the park with that dish. It was one of my favorites!
BRAHM CALLAHAN, MS: I love Riesling and steak…there is something about the ripeness of Riesling with the crazy acidity that can cut through the richness of a great steak.
Learn more about Master Sommelier Bobby Stuckey, Master Sommelier Dustin Wilson, and Master Sommelier Brahm Callahan below!