Wine Pairing Rules Worth Breaking

Conde Nast Traveler

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Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler

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Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler

Pairing wine with food can seem like thorny business. Do you go taste for taste, or contrasting flavors? Is white wine with fish the only appropriate pairing? The “rules” of pairing food and wine appear to be confusing, but they don't need to be, says Bénédicte Martre-Trocard, a winemaker and wine educator in Bordeaux, France.

When it comes to wine pairings, Martre-Trocard’s philosophy is simple. “In two words: balance and complement,” she says. “The dish and the wine talk to each other, interact with each other, seduce each other, and fall in love.”

Rule no. 1: Rich red meat needs a bold red wine.

Let the dish be your guide. Define the food’s flavor profile (aromas, tastes, sensations) and tactile sensations (volume, fat, smooth), then find the appropriate wine. Either go in the same direction as the dish or try opposing flavors or aromas (eg. sweet and salty). “Pairing with opposites is certainly risky, but exciting, because it awakens the mouth and surprises your palate,” notes Martre-Trocard. "So stay creative and dare to pair."

Want a simple test to tell if the pairing is successful? Taste the wine on its own, then taste your dish, then re-taste your wine. If you find the wine tastes better on the second sip, then the marriage is good. “There is no absolute truth or rule—only infinite answers and option,” explains Martre-Trocard. “So stay creative and dare to pair.”

Chef Christophe Girardot at the Bordeaux Wine Festival. Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler Close

Chef Christophe Girardot at the Bordeaux Wine Festival. Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler

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Chef Christophe Girardot at the Bordeaux Wine Festival. Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler

Rule no. 2: Pair a white wine with seafood.

It's okay to go for unexpected pairings. Sometimes the balance of pairing comes in unexpected ways, like red wine and fish for summer. “Depending on the type of fish you’re having, you can marry it well with red wine,” she notes. If you're trying the combination out, look for a red that's round with soft tannins, in keeping with the delicate flesh of the fish. Martre-Trocard recommends a marinated tuna paired with a wine from the right bank of Bordeaux, such as Château Laborde from Lalande de Pomerol AOC, or Château Jeandeman from Fronsac AOC.

Rule no. 3: A dessert needs a dessert wine, right?

Not necessarily. Let the wine complement the dessert, says Martre-Trocard, who likes an active pairing. “I personally like to ‘shake’ the mouth—awaken the palate by seeking contrasts,” she explains. Try pairing a rosé or a Crémant de Bordeaux with a red fruit salad, which brings liveliness and freshness to the dish. A red wine with round and soft tannins—such as wines from Château Mancèdre from Pessac-Leognan AOC or Château d'Arcole from Saint Emilion AOC—would be perfect on dark chocolate desserts.

Chef Christophe Girardot’s spectacular wagyu and oyster burger topped with béarnaise and foie gras. Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler Close

Chef Christophe Girardot’s spectacular wagyu and oyster burger topped with béarnaise... Read More

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Chef Christophe Girardot’s spectacular wagyu and oyster burger topped with béarnaise and foie gras. Photograph via Conde Nast Traveler

Rule no. 4: Trust the experts.

It's okay to trust your gut, too. If you still can’t decide what to serve or what to bring to a dinner party or BBQ, go for a crowd pleaser, says Martre-Trocard. “The best option would be to offer a wine that appeals to the largest number of people, such as a Crémant de Bordeaux or Bordeaux rosé.”

Last but not least, don't be afraid when going forth to the wine shop. “Remember balance,” Martre-Trocard says. “Trust yourself.”

RECIPE


What’s better with wine on a summer afternoon than a burger? At the recent Bordeaux Wine Festival, Christophe Girardot—chef of Bordeaux-area restaurant La Guérinière, and author of

Famous Bordeaux Classic Recipes Relooked

—prepared his French spin on a classic burger, paired with a sweet white Bordeaux.

INGREDIENTS

Brioche bun

Iceberg lettuce

Béarnaise sauce (4 oz. white wine vinegar, 1 shallot, pepper, 6 tarragon leaves, 1 egg yolk, .70 oz. butter, 2 oz. cream, salt)

4 thin slices of lardo

5 oz. Wagyu beef (15% fat)

4 oysters, chopped

1 oz. chives

3.5 oz. sweet Bordeaux wine

2 oz. brown sugar

Salt

4 leaves of mertensia maritime (oysterleaf)

6 borage herb flowers (starflower)

1.5 oz. foie gras escalope

Soy sauce

1. Cut the bun in half and lightly toast.

2. Place iceberg lettuce on the bun.

3. Make béarnaise by reducing the wine vinegar, then adding in chopped tarragon and pepper. Add the egg yolk and whip to create smooth blend. Add melted butter and cream. Place in blender.

4. Place sauce on the lettuce, and cover sauce with slices of lardo.

5. Chop beef and add chopped oysters. Add chives with salt. Shape into patties.

6. Reduce the sweet Bordeaux wine with brown sugar to create syrup.

7. Fry the burger and add the reduction of sweet Bordeaux to lacquer the mea tat the very end.

8. Place the patty atop the lardo. Add leaves of mertensia maritime and borage.

9. Fry the foie gras escalope on both sides in a hot frying pan. Skim off grease and deglaze with soy sauce to lacquer the escalope.

10. Place foie gras on top of greens and finish with bun.

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