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Challenging Pairings

working with foods that are hard to pair with wine

Challenging Wine Pairings

The goal of food and wine pairing is to choose a wine that makes the food taste better and vice versa. But is it possible to choose a wine that makes the food taste worse, or the wine taste bad - and like really bad? The answer is yes. There are a few foods that pose some serious challenges for wine pairing ... but it can be done! Here are our tips to tackling tough food and wine pairings.

#1) Challenge: Artichokes

Artichokes are a tricky little food. They contain a chemical, cynarine, which can play serious tricks on the palate. It actually messes with the taste receptors on your tongue, and can make water or dry wines taste sweet. Suddenly that crisp, dry Sancerre you were enjoying on its own tastes completely different, and usually not for the better.

Solution: Pick a wine with a little bit of sweetness to start with. It might taste slightly sweeter because of the artichokes, but it won't change the flavor of the wine so drastically.

#2) Challenge: Asparagus

Asparagus is another tough vegetable for wine pairing - and it's another chemical that's responsible. In this case, methanethiol, which is actually also the component that causes that other funny thing to happen after you eat asparagus. It's a sulfur compound that brings out very marked vegetal notes in a lot of wines. And frankly vegetal is not a descriptor that ever comes up when we're giving a positive review to a wine.

Solution: Choose a crisp, dry white that doesn't have any herbal or 'green' notes to start. We like dry sparkling Prosecco or Sancerre. A little added green note won't be as noticeable against the wine's acidity, and since it's not being doubled by a natural veggie flavor the wine already has.

#3) Challenge: Walnuts / Walnut Oil

Walnuts and walnut oil are both very, very high in tannin. Their crunch and toastiness plus this bit of bitterness are why we love them, but it can wreak havoc with wine. Try a tannic wine like Cabernet and add walnuts on top of that, and both suddenly will taste unpleasantly bitter and astringent. Yuck!

Solution: Avoid wines with a lot of tannin - either reds or whites. Most heavier reds will be higher in tannin, or whites with long aging in oak which can also add tannin. Good choices include Cru Beaujolais or unoaked/lightly oaked Chardonnay. 

#4) Challenge: Vinegar

The etymology of the word vinegar is from the French, vin aigre, or sour wine. When good wines go bad, they can turn into vinegar - so not too surprising then that they don't help showcase a wine's charms. Tart and acerbic, vinegar can make a wine seem like it has started to sour too.

Solution: High-acid wines have a fighting chance to stand up to the notable acidity in the vinegar. Generally, this is going to point you to whites, especially in a crisp style like Sauvignon Blanc or Vinho Verde.

Tell us about challenges or successes you've had pairing wines with tough foods like these: amyandmike@easyfoodandwine.com

Next Article:  Pairing Starts with this Question: Red, White or Rose?
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