To Pair or Not to Pair: Are There Rules?

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Photo by Michael Kasten

I remember, not long ago, attending a wine tasting led by a French winemaker, peddling his portfolio of wines. He alleged that ALL wines are meant to be paired with a good meal; he said it is the European way aka “the right way”. Further, he declared to a room full of Americans, that Americans will come home at the end of a stressful day, open a bottle of wine, drink a glass or two without food, solely with the purpose of unwinding. And? What is wrong with that? Oh mon Dieu!

When I dine out in a restaurant, I very rarely start out with a cocktail before the meal; I usually go straight to the main drinking event and order a glass of wine. Not really into cocktails, I will likewise order a glass of wine (sometimes a beer) if we are allocated to the bar to wait for a table. When deciding on a varietal, I give zero thought to what I will be eating. There are a few things I will take into consideration: 

  • What am I “in the mood” for – This comes into play when making many “life” decisions
  • What do my dining mates like to drink – I am usually quite flexible when it comes to sharing a bottle
  • Are there specials – There may be wine specials, especially during happy hour
  • What season are we in – This will determine if I will drink red, white or maybe rose’

Once in a while, however, I will stumble across a great pairing. Over the holidays this past year I got together with friends for an evening of food, wine, and laughter; one of my favorite ways to pass an evening. We started out with three different reds for the appetizers. For dinner, the hostess prepared chicken francese so I opened a white Bordeaux. Wow – it was an amazing pairing! The crisp, citrusy flavors of the Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion blend was a perfect complement to the lemony sauce of the chicken; just delicious! It is worth noting, however, I have also had this same wine on a hot summer night, at the end of a stressful day, to help me unwind; it was also quite satisfying. 

Having lived in Europe myself for four years, I don’t know if I believe pairing is the European way – it may be the French way. There was a fabulous vineria (wine bar) close to where I worked in Rome, Italy. The proprietor, Alberto, saw most of his business congregate well into the evening, but you could still find customers stopping in at the end of their stressful day, to unwind with a glass of prosecco or two. My small group of friends were a United Nations mix of people and regulars at this vineria.   

So, to pair or not to pair? I say drink what you want, when you want, with whatever you want, with whoever you want, wherever you want; it really should not matter, there are no rules. It is all about the experience, making new discoveries and creating memories of your own.

Cin Cin!