It didn’t take long during the recent Whole Foods Twitter tasting for someone to offer a food pairing for the protea Chenin Blanc (grilled chicken with fresh herbs, if you were wondering). A second suggestion soon followed (gruyère cheese). And then came another one (chicken pot pie).
This rush to pair was no surprise, really: Wanting to explore which foods go well with a tasty wine is a natural tendency, because as you’ve probably heard a million times before, wine and food were meant to go together. The great merchant, connoisseur and writer Andre Simon put it well: “Food without wine is a corpse; wine without food is a ghost; united and well matched they are as body and soul, living partners.”
Ah, but there’s the rub: “well matched.” For some, the idea that there are good wine and food pairings immediately highlights the possibility of bad wine and food pairings – and, moreover, that there must be some formula for figuring out which will be which.
Earlier this year, Eric Asimov began offering wine suggestions to go along with some of the recipes featured in the New York Times, but he admitted to being hesistant.
“Why the hesitation? Not because it is difficult to conjure up matches,” he wrote. “Pairing food and wine can be the simplest thing in the world. But it can also be arcane and complicated, enough so that some people find it discouraging. I hate to add to that.”
Asimov went on to dismiss the formulas often used to guide pairing wine and food. “The truth is that experience is the only surefire method for feeling more at ease with wine and food,” he said. “To learn how to ski, you must set off down the mountain and not be afraid to fall. And falls happen, even with the experts.”
If you’re new to thinking about wine and food pairing, the protea Chenin Blanc is a particularly good wine to use to launch yourself down the mountain. For one thing, it’s not encumbered by oak, which always opens up lots of possibilities. It’s also an exceptionally well balanced wine, with good natural acidity and fruit concentration. Again, that spells versatility.
So you could try it with a Thai green chicken curry that’s not too hot – Bon Appétit has a wonderful and simple version here. But the wine has some richness and aromatic appeal, too, so how about Alton Brown’s seared scallops?
Or before the last of the season’s zucchini disappears, you might want to follow a suggestion for Chenin Blanc offered up by Lauren Buzzeo of the Wine Enthusiast: zucchini soufflé with baked goat cheese and pancetta cream.
“The crisp natural acidity in this wine cuts through the richness of the soufflé, and enhances the fresh herbaceous flavors in the dish,” said the dish’s creator, Lorianne Heyns, a chef in Stellenbosch, the home to many a great South African Chenin Blanc. “At the same time, the rich creaminess of the sauce complements the ripe tropical fruit flavors of the wine.”
The British wine writer Fiona Beckett likes to go in a similar direction with Chenin Blancs like the protea, suggesting “cooked egg dishes like quiches, frittatas and omelettes,” in addition to an onion tart.
Will these pairings work for you? There’s only one way to find out!
Next week: Red wines with veggies?