With the imminent (June 15th) release of my free (read: free) online wine pairing workshop, I thought I'd drop a snippet of some of my favourite experimentations with food & wine pairing that fall far outside the textbook of culinary history.
Pairing wine & food is a convergence of many factors. I will not pretend that they can be learned entirely in a couple of hours. They can't. Years of experimentation are required, and in these years, beautiful partnerships will form in your world between plate & glass. What a prospective wine enthusiast needs to do is simply start experimenting.
This is where it gets fun.
I'm often asked about how to start understanding food & wine pairing. My default answer, which is genuine, is to find the nearest bottle of wine and the nearest item of food available to you. Drink the wine. Eat the food. Drink the wine again. Eat the food again. Mix them around in your mouth. And pay attention while you do it. See what happens. See what the wine was like on its own, and notice what its like after the food hits your tongue, as well. And see how it all evolves.
You need a starting point. And you push that practice down the road by continuing to research, read, and taste new wines with new combinations of foods.
Here are 3 instances where I stumbled upon pairings that were notably delicious, although perhaps slight unusual. In no particular order.
1. Hillside Cabernet Franc 2013 + Beet Spread, Cucumber & Cheese
If this sounds like a college-dorm-inspired concoction, well...it wasn't. But it sounds like it might have been. I'm snacking away on cukes, white cheddar, and I yank this beet purée/spread/(was it some kind of hummus?) out of the fridge. I think I started with the cheese. Cheese & wine: no big deal. Totally normal. But this beet spread. It was like a salad dressing. Something I normally would have reserved for fresh, lively white wines: Sancerre, Vinho Verde, Muscadet, sparklies...you get it. But I had this Hillside Cabernet Franc open. Wine from Naramata, British Columbia. It was a down-the-middle style in terms of body weight and extraction (read: colour & tannin), and restrained enough to show a reasonable level of acidity. Normally, I'd go "light, bright wine with heavier food" over "light, bright food with heavier wine". But, if you read up on Cabernet Franc for five minutes, you'll start to hear stuff about vegetal notes, specifically "capsicum" or "green pepper" as being a notable character of the varietal. Well, this wine had enough freshness and this vegetal note just kinda seemed to sing right along on the same chorus as this bizarro beet purée, cucumber, and cheese slice surprise. I couldn't get enough, and the snackable pairing stands out in my memory today.
2. 'The Standish' Shiraz 2009 + Pot of Kraft Dinner™
Some dear friends had purchased this bottle for my birthday some years ago. It is truly exceptional Shiraz from winemaker Dan Standish, former winemaker for also-great producer Torbreck. Barossa Valley, Australia. This bottle isn't cheap. I was at home one mellow evening, with little food in the house, this bottle of wine I had been keeping, and a book I wanted to dive into. I had purchased a couple boxes of Kraft Dinner™ from the 24-hour corner store across the street from my Gastown apartment as part of one of many late-night escapades in which I was instrumental in orchestrating back in those days. And here I was. Me. The box of KD. A block of butter. And The Standish. The universe had finally aligned itself perfectly. Once the cork was pulled, the butter was melted, and the salt & pepper generously sprinkled on the finished product, utter utopia was achieved. I don't recall ever being so comfortable. Record on. Lights low. Book. Sofa. KD. And a fucking epic bottle of Shiraz. All to myself.
3. Nik Weis Bockstein Riesling Kabinett + Pepper Jelly & Soft Goat Cheese
I know that on paper this one adds up perfectly to all the experienced wine people out there: it's expected. It's just that for me, it was a very formative moment, and I would have never known to combine these three things and that they would have been so literally mind-blowing. A friend of mine came over to my parents' house, where I was spending the night. A former boss and enthusiastic wine drinker rather than bona-fide wine enthusiast, he brought three things to the house: this bottle of Nik Weis Bockstein Riesling Kabinett, a jar of pepper jelly, and a small log of soft, unripened goat cheese. My dad was on site at the time, and wasn't drinking much white wine at all. He initially declined our offer. And then my pal & I simultaneously put some goat cheese on a cracker and smothered it with the pepper jelly. We popped the little hors d'oeuvres in our mouths. We took a pull of the Riesling. Our heads turned to look at each other at the exact same time. Minds were blown. It was like an apple orchard exploding inside our mouths. Daddy-o could sense the magic happening and changed his mind on accepting the offer of the glass of Riesling. He did the same thing. The bottle, jelly, and cheese were gone in 6 minutes. Few moments have come close to that in terms of the wine + food equally way more than the sum of their parts in my life.
But, I'm still searching.