Pairing Rules: Tips for Creating a Wine Pairing Menu
Everyone enjoys a good glass of wine - if you're a drinker, that is. While you may be a little more specific about picking your poison when it comes to liquor or beer, wine is a category all on its own.
Just as the mood and setting have to be right in order for one to enjoy their glass, the perfect small plate can make that experience only better. But, while many say that it isn't rocket science when developing a menu that caters to your venue's wine selection, it's certainly isn't as easy as it may seem.
Sure, there are the basic rules such as red wine going well with red meat and white being a great accompaniment for seafood, but there are also some other things that should be taken into account if you're thinking of creating a selection of small plates to serve up with the wine.
As previously mentioned, one of the common misperceptions of pairing wine with food is solely believing that red with red meat and white with seafood. Rules are meant to be broken.
"I have had wonderful pairings with Pinot Noir and certain seafood, while on the other side have had near out of body experiences with a robust skin-contact fermented Chardonnay and Dry-aged beef," says Conor McCormack, winemaker at Brooklyn Winery.
For anyone that's starting to build a portion of their menu around wine pairings, he advises to keep things simple and not overcomplicate things.
"Keeping it simple while using great products will get you most of the way," McCormack says. "That and tasting, then tasting some more."
It seems as though one important aspect of creating a good selection for an audience is experimenting - trying out different ingredients with the hopes of surprising yourself. This is something that Brooklyn Winery's head chef, Michael Gordon, strongly advises.
"While there are a few ingredients and flavors that are notorious for their inability to play well with wines, for the most part the sky's the limit," Gordon says. "Part of the fun of pairing wine and food is trying all of the different options and sometimes surprising yourself with what works with what."
The selection of wine that you can offer should have an impact on the number of plates you offer. On average, Gordon advises that there should be anywhere from 15 to 20 items.
"It's important to make sure that you have enough variety to provide complements to the different wine profiles," he says. "That should be enough to guarantee that whichever wine is ordered there will be at least one or two dishes to pair with it."
What are some items that are typically a success? For Matteo Bergamini, executive chef at SD26 in Manhattan, New York, its been comfort food.
"A fresh tomato salad with basil and maybe some buffalo mozzarella would be great with some white wine," he says. "Smaller portions that are perfect for the bar include toasted hazelnuts or some parmigiano reggiano."
Bergamini recommends staying away from expensive items and trying to play with affordable items for the bar. If you aim for items that fall within a medium price range, he believes you can play with the pricing a bit more then later shift toward more premium products.
His most important piece of advice? Stay true to your venue and your "product."
"Try to speak to the product," Bergamini says. "If it's an Italian restaurant, whatever you offer should complement it."