The best news for wine lovers from Saturday’s Playing Matchmaker seminar at Taste Washington: the experts all agree that the best way to pair wine is to drink more of it. The advice garnered by moderator Jamie Peha of Table Talk Northwest ranged from buying an extra bottle to drink in the afternoon as you cook to just having more bottles open. Whether you’ve got plans to host an elaborate dinner party or are just wondering which random bottle that a friend brought over to drink with your Tuesday night meal, the panel offered the kind of bite-sized (pun intended) tips that are easy to put into practice.
Sparkling goes with anything: Jameson Fink, editor of the Grape Collective kicked this one off, explaining that bubbles cut through any richness (great for comfort food like mac n’ cheese), letting you return to the food refreshed. The lower-alcohol wine Gruner Veltliner was also held up as an example of an easy one to pair with a wide variety of foods.
Mushrooms are Magic: Lenny Rede, of Esquin Wine & Spirits, introduced the concept of a “bridge.” The earthiness of mushrooms picks up the earthiness of wine, connecting the two—making the pairing work. So when trying a less traditional connection, such as a red wine with fish: simply add a mushroom sauce. Purple Wine Café & Wine Bar chef Harry Mills suggested that the French sauce gastrique was another good bridge, with the caramelized brown sugars and bright acid picking up the sweetness and acidity of wines.
Spice is Nice: Don’t be afraid to pair wine with spicy food, counseled Mills. But, he added, be selective. Alcohol opens up the palate, which makes spicy food seem even hotter. Panelists recommended riesling and vinho verde as varieties that work well, while Fink offered that slightly chilling a light red helps make it more spice-friendly.
Control the Food: “You can adjust the food, but you can’t adjust the wine,” Reggie Daigneault, of South Seattle Community College’s wine program, told the room. If you’re cooking for friends, you can add more or less salt, butter, spice, or flavor, but the wine is the wine. Both she and Mills suggested opening an extra bottle of whatever wine you’re planning to serve in the afternoon as you begin to cook, so that as you cook, you can make sure the food will let the wine shine.
Simplify the Process: Winemaker Sean Hails of Columbia Winery kept his advice simple, suggesting that you pick either the food or the wine, then allow that to inspire the other. Fink’s parting words were similar—suggesting that if you’re stressing about a big, complicated dinner (like a holiday meal with a thousand sides), then stop worrying about wine pairings, open a wide variety of nice bottles, and let people pick what they’d like to drink.