What is life without meat?
Author: Leonid Gelibterman
«Variety is the source of perfect harmony,» Heraclitus wrote in antiquity. Just like any other art, matching food and drinks requires certain skills and the ability to strike a balance. Red wine and meat is the tried and tested option and has been popular throughout the centuries. However, it is not the only possible option. There are many other combinations capable of revealing new, unique hints of flavor in your meal.
What is life and wine without meat? To many wine lovers in Russia and around the world, the answer to this question seems obvious: it’s meaningless because wine and meat are a perfect gastronomic match. In this article, I dare to present a different take on this long-standing tradition.
Cheese and wine
In his memoirs, Venetian adventurer Giovanni Giacomo Casanova recalls treating two nuns with oysters and champagne. The seducer’s trusty recipe also included Roquefort cheese with Chambertin wine or champagne. Overall, cheese and wine is as timeless a classic as meat and wine. But an ill-matched combination can leave the taste of soap on your palate, so keep in mind a few rules and basic principles:
- Cheese and wine from the same region tend to pair well together.
- The stronger a cheese, the fuller-bodied wine it demands (not necessarily red).
- The stronger a cheese, the finer must be the aroma of the wine, and vice versa.
- Cheese does not go well with oak and vanilla notes, so cheese and wine aged in a new barrel are not a great combination.
- Sharp cheese requires a high-acidity wine, and in some cases even a sweet wine.
- The more tannins there are in your wine, the softer tasting cheese you should choose.
- Hard, slightly sweet cheese is a good match for rough red wine.
Now for some examples. Brie goes well with wines from Saint Emilion and Pomerol, or Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, or Chardonnay that didn’t age in a barrel. It can also be served with the intense fruit wines of Italy, including Soave and Frascati or Pinot Noir and Cremant d’Alsace.
For Camembert from Normandy, I would recommend red French wines from Cotes du Rhone, Beaujolais Villages, and wines from Saint Estephe and Saint Julien.
Mozzarella pairs best with light white wines, such as Bergerac, or rose wines of Anjou or Loire Valley. Low-tannin red wines from Bordeaux and Beaujolais are also an excellent choice. Parmigiano Reggiano goes well with Barolo, Chianti, Cabernet Sauvignon slightly aged in oak, and vintage Porto.
Dutch Gouda, which is popular in Russia, can be paired nicely with wines of Bordeaux, namely Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah wine from California, Spanish Tempranillos, and red wines from South Africa.
Roquefort is served with Chateauneuf du Pape, Alsace wines from Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir, and wine from the Sauternes commune. Accompany Cheddar with red wines of Medoc and Cote de Beaune, and ripe Cheddar with rich red wines from Australian Shiraz and vintage Porto.
Flora and little fauna
I’ll start this part of my review with soups. If you like artichoke soup, you should definitely try it with dry white wines from the Loire Valley and Pinot Gris wines. Asparagus soup pairs best with Sauvignon Blanc. Feeling adventurous? Try borscht with Pinot Gris from Alsace or Pinot Grigio from Italy. Carrot and coriander soup goes well with Torrontes wine from Argentine and fragrant dry Muscats. Corn crab soup is even more delicious with white Sancerre wine, while mushroom soup pairs well with Bordeaux wines. French onion soup goes best with classic French wines, for instance white Bordeaux, Aligote from Burgundy, Sancerre, or white Sauvignon Blanc. Gazpacho makes a wonderful pair with its «compatriot»: white Rioja, or try a Sauvignon Blanc to really make the tomato flavors shine.
Fans of sushi and sashimi will be pleased to know they have more options than just Japanese beer and whiskey. Sushi matches well with a simple Chablis, wine from Graves or Entre-deux-Mers, and dry Riesling from Germany. For sashimi, try Jerez, Chablis Premiere or Grand Cru, semi-dry Rieslings from Rheigau, or chilled sake.
Freshen up your average Spanish tortilla soup with a young fruit red wine from Spain or a white wine from Rueda.
Hummus, a chickpea spread popular in the Middle East, can be served with Portuguese green wines and inexpensive dry red wines from France.
Indulge yourself by pairing Italian tomato pasta with a Chianti from Tuscany, or a Cabernet Sauvignon or Zinfandel from California. Fresh anchovies match perfectly with Galician Albariño, and also with green wines from Portugal or an Aligote. White wines from Cotes du Rhone will highlight your artichokes nicely. Crab and avocado salad will truly shine if you wash it down with champagne or an Australian Chardonnay. Finding a perfect match for spinach is a difficult challenge, but it is not impossible. Italian Pinot Grigio and Lugana can play this role just fine.
Bean salad partners well with red Rioja, while button mushrooms pair excellently with wines based on Merlot, Barolo, and Barbaresco. Wild mushrooms form a perfect harmony with Nebbiolo and red Bordeaux wine. For grilled vegetables, find a Chardonnay that wasn’t aged in a barrel, Sauvignon Blanc, or a light fruit red wine. Zucchini taste great with a Chenen Blanc from South Africa or a French wine from Vouvray. Noble white truffles are delectable with aged Barolo from Piedmont, while more democratic olives are great with Jerez Fino or Manzanilla, Retsina, or Muscadet.
Indulge your sweet tooth
Strudels are all but made for semi-dry wines from Austria, late-harvest Rieslings, semi-dry Vouvray, and Canadian ice wine. These Canadians wines can also be paired with fruit pies and non-sweet fruit. Apricots go well with Semillon and late-harvest Riesling. Wash down your fruit salads with Moscato d’Asti or a Beerenauslese Riesling. If fresh fruit isn’t in season, opt for dried fruits with a sweet Jerez or Tawny port wine.
As for berry desserts, blackcurrant mousse tastes amazing with sweet sparkling wines. Try serving blueberry pie with a six-basket Tokay for a delicious experience. Blackberries find perfect harmony when paired with fresh rose wines.
Classic cheesecakes form a wonderful bond with Australian Semillon, while chocolate cake goes well with sweet wines from Germany, good champagne, and Madeira. The taste of tiramisu (when made correctly) can be brought out by a sweet strong Muscat, Italian Torcolato or Vin Santo. Creme brulee gets even creamier when paired with a Tokay wine. Tone down the sweetness of baklava with a Moscatel de Setubal from Portugal. Make qurabiya cookies richer with a semi-sweet or sweet Madeira.
It is no accident that chilled melon soaked in port wine is a popular dessert in many countries. If you find it too overwhelming, try washing down the melon with a sweet Jerez or Madeira. Enjoy mango with champagne or slightly chilled Italian Asti.
Strawberries, when served without cream, can be paired with various wine varieties. Choose from red Rioja, young Pinot Noir, sweet Muscat, champagne, Asti, Spanish cava—don’t be afraid to explore! Everyone’s favorite classic, vanilla ice cream, takes on a whole new unexpected side when accompanied by Pedro Ximenez sherry or Marsala. As for chocolate, it pairs with wines, cognac and Armagnac alike.
Cognac also goes well with vanilla ice cream and dried fruit. Young Armagnac will intensify the taste of Ethiopian coffee, while aged varieties better complement Kenyan coffee.
Dear advocates and adversaries of various diets, products, and lifestyles, I’d like to remind you of a quote from German poet and playwright Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller:
Enjoy your wine slowly, drop by drop,
And the joy in your life will never stop.
And another useful tip from Seichi Koshimitsu, the blend master of Suntory (Japan): Joy is the opportunity to try different options.