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2010 Wine Bloggers Conference: Food & Wine pairing with Jeffery Saad of The Food Network

At the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, The Food Network's Jeremy Saad was the keynote speaker for a hands-on Food and Wine pairing session. After hearing his helpful hints, we were treated to some incredible courses prepared by the Marcus Whitman's celebrated Chef, Bear Ullman. Of course, they were all perfectly paired with wines from all over the world. What a treat!

By Jeffrey Saad (

Pairing wine and food

That is what I said the first time I experienced the true “ah ha” of what a perfect wine and food match can do. It was 1990 in a little French restaurant in San Francisco. It was foie gras and sauterne. Leaving bliss aside for a moment often times the goal is to just not mess up the food or the wine with a bad match right?

I am here in front of you not as an “expert” but as someone who has spent their life as a cook, a restaurateur and all around wine geek enjoying food, wine and the combination of the two. That is what it is all about. You know what tastes good and what doesn’t, right? That should be your guide. Add that to what we are going to cover today and you are equipped to take your enjoyment to the next level.

Ok, before we get started let’s clarify what Tools are needed: nose, tongue, and love for filling your mouth with brilliant flavor combinations! You must first please the tongue/the gatekeeper with the necessary balance of acid/sweet/salty/alcohol /fat and spice before the nose (the place we really “taste” everything can enjoy the true depth of the wine and food match.

The fist step is to change the way you approach your plate and glass. Approach your food and wine the same way you approach your relationships (the good ones J) Stop and “listen” to your food and wine. Really pay attention to what is in front of you and give the first couple bites/sips your full attention. When you do this you start to notice things. Have you ever finished a meal and not even realized what you ate or drank? Sometimes that makes sense but to get the most enjoyment you want to really pay attention to your food and wine. Lock the tastes and smells into your “flavor database” so that you will be able to recall them in the future. Lose yourself in the dish and the glass for a moment (just make sure to re-surface before your friends think you have issues (it’s already too late for me).

Thanks to Josh Wesson’s book (“Red wine with fish”) most of us have moved far beyond the “red wine with meat and white wine with fish” rule. You probably know that the cooking technique, the sauce, the weather and even your mood are all more important that the protein.

Remember the most important thing about food and wine matches is to trust your mouth. See what is going on inside your mouth as you eat and drink. If it is pleasant you have found a good match. If either the food or the wine taste worse together than they did on their own you know you have discovered a pair that doesn’t work.

I always suggest first taking a sip of the wine and then following it with a bite of food and then one more sip. Repeat until you find the perfect match or are so happy that it doesn’t matter.

In addition to that remember that personal taste is king. Nobody can tell you what to like or dislike (even though there are some waiters out there who would disagree).

I. Pizza and milk anyone?
Who would drink milk with pizza? Of course not. How about an ice-cold coke? That seems obvious because we have all had this combination a million times. There are two lessons here.

Repetition is key. The more you try a certain type of food with a certain type of beverage the more you will learn what works and what doesn’t. To do your homework is to eat and drink as often as possible.Think about why pizza and coke work. Pizza – rich from the cheese. Acidic in from the tomato sauce and a touch of spice. Coke – Slightly bitter/tannic, which offsets the richness of the cheese. Also acidic which balances the acid in the sauce bringing the tomato and topping flavors forward. The underlying raisinated fruit/sweetness in the coke tames any spice in the sauce.

Ketchup and French Fries – Think of wine as an additional “condiment” you are adding to the meal. Ketchup is not so lovely on its own but it is great with fries due to the balance that is created. The sweet of the ketchup balances the salt of the fries. The acidity of the ketchup cleanses the fat of the fries = harmony.

Try to apply those same simple criteria to your food and wine matches. What elements does each contain? Will they play nicely together?

II. The general “rules”
First choose to match or contrast the elements in the food and in the wine.
Contrasting can be riskier due to imbalances.
When “matching,” remember that whatever the food has you want the wine to have a little more of that. I.e. sweet dessert then you want a wine that is at LEAST as sweet or sweeter.
We must first master the non-sexy elements of pairing (acid, fat, sweet, salt, alcohol, tannin and spice) before you can enjoy the sexy, deep elements of wine (earthiness, layers of fruit, flowers, leather, tobacco, tar, the list goes on!). If you get the base elements right you are 85% of the way there!
In the food In the wine The result

The top three food friendly wines – your “wine to the rescue” when you are not sure.

1.Barbera – although red it has a lot of firm acid and bright fruit that will go with a huge range of food.

2.Rose – a dry or off dry rose will go well with almost anything. There is enough acid to match the acid in a salad. There is enough fruit to off set a spicy food; there is just enough tannin from the minimal skin contact to stand up to most protein. And it looks so pretty!

3.Champagne! As long as it is not overly yeasty the low alcohol, high acidity and mild yeast marry with a huge range of food. You can do different Champagnes to match ever course of a meal from rose, to white to full yeast to bright fruit.

1.The top three unforgettable classic wine/food matches. Try them!
i.Foie gras and sauterne.
ii.Sherry (oloroso)and Marcona almonds.
iii.A rib-eye and malbec.

1.More matching info.
i.When in doubt go local! IF you are eating Italian, stick with Italian wines. “What grows together goes together”.
ii.Think about matching the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Is the food light, medium or heavy based on cooking technique, protein and sauce? If light go with a lighter wine (watery in weight like Muscadet for white or a light Beaujolais for red), if medium go with a wine with more body (milk-like in weight like Viognier for white or Pinto Noir for red), if heavy go with a heavier bodied wine (creamy in weight like Chardonnay for white or Carmenere for red).

Remember, these are the basics that will set you up for success. Just like discovering your own great restaurants off the beaten path on a vacation you will need to eat, drink and experiment with wine and food matches to find your own “off the beaten path” wine and food match.

Cheers and Bon Appetite!
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