The Art to Food & Wine Pairing

Wine pairing to Match Your Edina Culinary Excursion

How to find the right vino to match your culinary excursion.


Some believe that pairing the subtle nuances of food with the right wine is an exact science. Others claim it’s impossible to match heavy sauces, spices or certain vegetables.  But wine and food pairing is merely a balancing act that requires patience and practice.

The secret of pairing is to balance weight, texture and intensity, all while paying attention to the intricacies of a dish’s flavors. Don’t be afraid to experiment and keep an open mind. Throw out the traditional gospel of white wine with fish or chicken and red wine with red meat, and start from scratch.

Next time you’re out and about on the town, visit these local restaurants and try your hand at pairing wines to the delicious cuisine you eat there.

Pair the Ploughman's Plate at Pig & Fiddle with a glass of Gran Sasso Montepulciano D'Abruzzo

Heavy or Light?

There are two ways to play this game: Put a heavyweight in the ring with another heavyweight, or sneak up on the opponent by bringing in an agile lightweight to knock out the mass of a heavyweight..

Try coming at a dish like a sliced hanger steak dripping in a creamy béarnaise sauce at Salut Bar Américain with a heavy American cabernet that’s just as weighty as your plate. The wine’s bold flavors of fruit and oak intertwine so that both the drink and the meal feel even more complex.

Or how about pairing a white wine with the same dish? This idea isn’t absurd. Try a round, heavily fruited New World chardonnay. While the weight of the full-bodied grape matches the complexity of your steak, the refreshing flavors of this chilled white can act as a counterbalance and soothe the palate, similar to a cool glass of water on a hot summer day.

You can counterbalance wine with fried foods too. One of my favorite fried dishes in Edina is the crispy frog leg plate at Salut, which is served over warm greens with a touch of herbed butter and lemon. The answer in this case is bubbles, which are, in your glass, are the perfect way to alleviate the fatter, more saturated flavor of  anything fried. Thus, a crisp, clean glass of French Champagne with a plate of crispy frog legs makes a perfect pairing: the acidity of the bubbly cuts the fried fat of the dish. This is one heavyweight that doesn’t stand a chance against its lighter opponent.

Offsetting Spice

Watch out, because spice can overwhelm the palate. If paired with the wrong wine, a dish’s spice (be it vegetal or dry spice) can leave you asking for a glass of milk rather than another glass of wine. Sushi dishes often carry these flavors of heat and spice.  From jalapeños, chili oils and pastes, from wasabi to red pepper flakes and onions, the heat coming from signature sushi rolls can overwhelm you.

One way to counterbalance heat is to choose an off-dry or sweet wine. A good American white blend with grapes like riesling and gewürztraminer is the trick.  Crave restaurant adeptly counterbalances spicy sushi and sashimi plates; from their yellowtail jalapeño sashimi to their spicy tuna rolls, the heat can sneak up quickly. So order a refreshing white wine like the Sokol Blosser Evolution (a blend of nine white grapes including the aforementioned riesling and gewürztraminer) to offset the spice in the food. The wine’s fresh, tropical flavors and the food’s heat form a heavenly match.

Pairing Similar Flavors

If the wine is described using adjective like “smoked,” “fresh herbs” and “red fruits,” then why  not include some of the same flavors in the dish?  Add the same herbs or smoky elements, and you’ll enhance the wine.  If an Italian montepulciano or sangiovese hints at roasted tomato, fresh oregano, basil and dried meat, then find the same ingredients in an Italian dish to bring the flavors alive even more.

When it comes to deliciously smoky, meaty dishes, look no further than Pig & Fiddle.  These guys know meat and they know how to make a dish smoky and savory. From their ploughman’s plate to their burgers, snuggle up to the bar with a rich glass of syrah, montepulciano or zinfandel to match like flavors of their dishes. But remember that strong flavors in a dish (such as smoke) will enhance tenfold the same flavors in the wine.

Slow down

Above all, pay attention to your food and drink. We Americans sometimes eat an entire plate of food before we even think about taking the first sip of wine. We often consume at too fast a pace. Slowing down to savor the perfect bite while swirling, sniffing and sipping your wine makes a huge difference.

Pay attention to the cooking techniques when making your pairing choice.  Was your dish grilled, baked or fried? Does your dish have a heavy sauce that will ultimately dictate your choice of libation? These are all crucial when perfecting the art of food and wine pairing.

Take the time to ask questions at your favorite restaurant, and most important, don’t be afraid to experiment. When the suggested pairing sounds unthinkable, try it anyway—you only live once. And if the pairing doesn’t fit, you’ll just have to eat and drink a bit more to find the formula that works for you. The art is to find the perfect pairing for your ownpalate.

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