Wine and Food Pairing in 10 minutes or less!

Wes Hagen breaks down his research and theory on food and wine pairing, taking it down to 4 simple rules:

  1. Intensity to Intensity
  2. Match Level of Fat to Structure (Acid/Tannin)
  3. Find a bridge
  4. Take a risk

Check out the video, and then get to planning your next excursion:  to table with friends and wine!

Ask questions if you have them!

Video Transcript
AUDIO START: [00:00:01]

Well, hey, everybody, it is Monday June 2nd, 2014. My name is Wes Hagen, I'm the vineyard manager and winemaker here at Clos Pepe Vineyards and Clos Pepe Estate Wines and welcome to the weekly Monday wine blog. I took last week off, had a whole bunch of stuff going on. Monday kind of blew by with a bunch of other stuff and by the end I realized that not only was I not necessarily around at home, but I didn't really have time to do the video, so I apologize that last week we didn't do much.

This week we're going to be talking about something we never talked about in the blog and something that I'm very, very passionate about and that is matching food and wine. So, it seems like we've had 150 rules come down from us from France and Italy from all these sort of Old World sources that you need to match oysters with crisp white wine and you need to match red wine with red meat. I'd say that the first responsibility of any American wine patriot is to kind of look at Europe with a little bit of care and not only to reconsider what it means to be in the New World and drinking wine, but breaking some of the old traditions of Europe and looking for new ways to match food and wine.

So, I think we seeing sort of a revolution of new food and wine pairing sort of concepts in the United States and these are being driven sometimes by folks up in Quebec, there's a new sort of tradition of wine and food pairing kind of popping up there with a couple sommeliers, and a sommelier specifically who wrote a book on molecular bridging which is something we're not going to talk about today. We are going to talk a little bit about finding a bridge with flavor and wine, but I want to keep the conversation today as focused and as simple as possible.

I teach five classes at the local community college, Allan Hancock College, on food and wine pairing, and as I've gone through the first few classes with a number of different groups of students it's helped me really think about what I love about food and wine pairing, what I think about food and wine pairing, and maybe some simple rules that we can start looking at as Americans so we're not so focused on this old, "White wine with fish, red wine with meat," stuff.

So, as a result I've come up with a very fancy sign. I'll hold it here, hopefully it will be in focus, and we're going to go through what I'm calling sort of my four simple steps of wine and food pairing. Okay, so I'll leave that there and so you can sort of think about it and I'll probably lift it up again at the end so you guys can consider it.

So, the first rule I have is intensity to intensity and this is really, really easy. If you have a nice light wine you need a nice light dish. If you have a nice light dish you need a nice light wine, so match the intensity of the food to the intensity of the wine. For example, let's just choose oysters. Oysters are mineral and they're a little bit delicate, but they have a good deal of flavor so I like the intensity of oysters with the intensity of Sauvignon Blanc. Believe it or not though I've had Pinot Noir actually matched with oysters. How do we do that? Well, Intensity to Intensity, Pinot Noir tends to have a very light profile so I would choose a light more elegant Pinot Noir, and then maybe the third rule, and I'm skipping ahead, is to find a bridge." So, if I wanted to find a bridge with Pinot Noir and oysters I would add a little bit of mushroom or maybe tomato to a mignonette to actually bring that sort of earthy character to the oyster which would help it bridge with a lighter style Pinot Noir.

The second rule is to match--this is the one rule that makes it a little bit complicated, you match the level of fat in the food to the level of structure in the wine. So, white wine is structured by acid, red wine is structured by tannin. They seem to be very disparate elements in the sense that acid makes your mouth water, tannin makes your mouth pucker, so one kind of gives you a wetter mouth and one actually desiccates your palate, but they're both structural elements that have basically the same function in food and wine pairing and this is to strip fat off our tongue.

Now, here's the important part, we match food and wine for two reasons; one, is to build flavor. The flavor of the wine with the food, makes the entire experience gestalt. The flavors of both are greater than the flavors either one by themselves, so that's the first thing, we match wine and food to put flavor in our mouth and to be happy. The second reason we match food and wine is to refresh our palate in-between bites.

So, you're eating some mac and cheese, you're eating some epoisse which is like a nice runny cheese, you're eating a steak, you put it in your mouth and the steak fat or the cheese fat or whatever it is it's going to gum up your taste buds, and once you've got fat on your taste buds you're done, you're not tasting really anything. Your ability to taste is probably knocked in half. At that point what you want to do is you want to introduce something into your mouth that's a solution and that solution is meant to actually strip your palate of those fats so you can go back to the food and taste it for the first time.

I usually describe this as a Wet-Nap for the mouth. So, you're eating ribs, ribs, ribs, ribs, fat, fat, fat, fat goes on to your tongue, take a nice sip of Sauvignon Blanc or a nice crisp white, with barbeque absolutely, it fits the rule. Take a little sip of Sauvignon Blanc with a little bit of ribs or brisket--palate right back to neutral, go back to the food, it's like tasting it for the first time. So, the higher the fat in your food the higher the acid or tannin in your wine, so that's really, really easy. So, if you are eating cheese which has a lot of fat in it you want a nice crisp white or a Pinot Noir because Pinot Noir has both acid and tannin, so if you're eating something with a decent amount of fat Pinot Noir is always a good option because it's equally balanced. It's the only red wine that's equally balanced by the two structural elements, acid and tannin.

So, there you go, match the level of fat to the level of structure in the wine and then find a bridge and finding a bridge is really easy. Smell the wine and normally I'm not very interested in when I'm smelling wine and tasting notes, do I smell black cherry or Bing cherry or cranberry or cassis, those words really don't mean anything to me. Is the wine delicious? But sometimes it is important to be able to sort of pick out references in a wine and here's why. Sometimes when we're going to match a dish we want to find a bridge between the wine and the food, and what I like to say is that bridge can be one flavor. So, if you smell a little bit of lime blossom in a nice Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, or Chenin Blanc, you get little bit of the--or cherry, let's go with cherry. Cherry in a Pinot Noir, well, that cherry would actually--if you wanted to infuse your sauce for your duck or do your duck with a little bit of a sweet cherry sauce then it would be a nice bridge to bring in a Pinot Noir.

Now, you have got to be careful with sugar and dry wine, but a little tiny bit of cherry influence in your sauce will bring out and bridge the wine and the food. So, if you smell a little bit of lime blossom in a Sauvignon Blanc, again, it's going to be a nice way if you're going to do a ceviche with a little bit of lime, that lime bridge between the ceviche and the crisp white wine with a little bit of lime blossom or lime zest is going to be just perfect. So, find a flavor that exists in both the food and the wine.

And then the last rule, and I'll hold this up one last time, "Intensity to Intensity, Fat to Structure, Find a Bridge,” and then the last one here, "Take a risk." And "Take a risk" just means, when I have my students do their final exams in the Allan Hancock class we have a full day, eight hours, of tasting small plates and wine. We do about a 25 to 30 course tasting meal throughout the day and it's just a fantastic way to feel like we're at table all day, and we're learning, and we're drinking, and we're eating, it's fabulous. And one thing I tell my students to do, when they do their final exam, I want them to choose a food and wine match that is an absolute almost guarantee that everyone will love it, a duck confit with a Pinot Noir, Pinot Noir with a little bit of plank salmon, an oyster with Sauvignon Blanc. This is a comparative match that will be absolutely delicious and it follows the rest of the rules.

Then I tell them to choose a crazy off-the-wall match that fits the rules that you think would never work. Take a risk, let's try Sauvignon Blanc with steak au poivre, nice pieces of medium rare steak with a sauce made from cream, butter, and fresh cracked pepper. Why wouldn't we do a steak with a Cabernet or Merlot? Well, sometimes we just want to try something different and the butter and the cream in the steak is going to be a flavor bridge, a little bit, for the white wine, it's going to help the white wine balance it, or something in the idea of a red wine with fish.

So, what can we do with a Merlot that would match with fish and chips, can you do that? Well, I don't know, but why not find out? So, again, it's about calling B.S. on all this old sommelier stuff from Europe and actually doing what Americans do best which is to break down old traditions and build up new ones that are based more on experience and experimentation, and taking a risk with food and wine pairing is always so much fun. So, fine wines, get some food, take some risks, and remember these rules, but also remember to break them when necessary.

So, that should give you guys some good homework for the week, put some delicious food on the table, put some wine on the table, see what matches with what. You can always see with salt and a little bit of lemon on the table would be a nice thing to do as well. So, that's about it, have a great week and we'll see you next week. I'll be coming back from Virginia. See you. Thanks again for watching.

AUDIO END: [00:09:47]