Every time I try a tasty new recipe, I ask myself what kind of wine would go with it. What would create a yin and yang, a complementary flavor sensation greater than the sum of its parts?
So I feel sad when some fastidious foodie names foods he or she says simply cannot be successfully paired with wine.
“Says who!?” I want to retort.
There are, I understand, a handful of dishes that many say can’t be matched. Asparagus, eggs, salads with vinaigrette dressing. Soy sauce-laden Chinese food. And the naysayers have logical-sounding reasons. But I still don’t buy it. Or at least I don’t want to.
Help me reason this out. I’ll name the problem foods, and the reasons they supposedly can’t be matched. I’ll say what I think. And you can email your ideas of wines you believe can be paired with them. Send them to firstname.lastname@example.org. We could do the world a great service.
Brussels sprouts: Some say it’s because the sprouts have slightly sulfurous, rotten-egg flavors, the reason you didn’t like them as a kid when your mom boiled them to death. And when sulfur is detectable in wine, as a result of dusting the grapes with too much spray or from poor sanitation in the winery, it’s considered a fault.
I say this can be overcome by roasting or sauteing the sprouts, which avoids the sulfur smell. Then a nice herbal sauvignon blanc will go nicely. Oh, and you might clean up the winery.
Asparagus: WebMD says asparagus has the same sulfur problem as Brussels sprouts, so the same tactics should take care of that. But the medical website goes on to say that a quarter to a half of the population has a different problem. It makes their urine smell like asparagus.
I say, “Is this really a problem?” Do you have people following you around seeing if they can tell if you had those green spears for lunch? If so, you have bigger problems than wine-food pairings.
Eggs: Some say egg yolks coat the palate and mask the flavors of the wine, making it taste dull.
I say, “What? No wine with my eggs Benedict? This could be the death of brunch.” I say this can be overcome by wines with sturdy bubbles and/or high acids to tear through that yolky coating. So a sparkling wine, a prosecco, a crisp rose or a cool-climate, high-acid white like chablis or a sauvignon blanc from France’s Loire Valley.
Soy sauce: Some say the salt in soy sauce mutes the fruit in wines and enhances their tannins, making the wine taste dull and bitter. But this would eliminate wine with a huge percentage of Chinese food.
I say avoid simply tannic wines and turn to rich chardonnays or low-tannin reds like California pinot noir.
Spicy food: Wines can’t stand up to the heat, so beer is a better match, some say.
I say wines with a little sweetness do very nicely with spicy Szechuan or Tex-Mex foods. An off-dry white riesling or chenin blanc or even moscato would work, and so would an extra-fruity red zinfandel or off-dry red blend.
Soup: Some ask, “What’s the point? You don’t have to wash soup down; it washes itself down.”
I say, first, I don’t like the phrase “wash down.” It sounds like you’re rinsing your boat, rather than having a nice culinary experience. Second, wine doesn’t just help you swallow the food. If you choose the right pairing, like an earthy mushroom soup with an equally earthy French pinot noir, it creates a flavor harmony that’s “to die for” (another phrase I dislike; would give up your life for a chocolate souffle?).
Salads: Some say wine doesn’t go with salads because the sharpness of a vinaigrette dressing makes the wine taste flat.
I say a high-acid brut or brut sauvage champagne will do fine. Or you can simply turn to a ranch or other creamy dressing.
Blue cheese: Some say the salt in blue cheese clashes with the tannins in big red wines.
I say this means that white wines, maybe surprisingly, go better than reds with blue cheese. Especially fruity, sweet whites. I’d try a demi-sec sparkling wine or even a sweet white dessert wine such as late-harvest sauvignon blanc or even sauternes.