Coke Roth

My take on the dilemma of wine and food pairing

Ahhhh, the grandeur of being a wine columnist, to write my completely biased opinion based, not on fact, but based on my opinion of the facts. This fashionable way of journalism, of course, presumes that the opinionated facts upon which I base my opinion are somewhat true — a real stretch in itself. There, now that I have cleared that up, I can move on to be the schlockmeister of the wine world my reader(s) have come to know.

My Faustian opinions in prior episodes of literary torture have partially delved into the most subjective of subjects, wine pairing. In this episode of negligent misrepresentation, I intend to convince you that the whole wine pairing thing is only meant for the author, not you, the reader.

Please believe me that I hold the utmost of respect for the well-intended that fill pages of text attempting to logically match the organoleptic nuances of food and wine. One assumes that the author actually concurrently put the subject food and the subject wine into a mouth, and no face distortion occurred — as say, Neapolitan ice cream smothered in Dijon mustard then served with a fine Chianti would do.

Not quite to that level, I tasted a 15.2 percent alcohol Pinot Noir at a restaurant recently, with the suggestion it went with the Rack of Lamb. No, it didn’t. It went with the occasion of drinking wine, and whipped the meat into submission. What went well with the beast was dry Michigan Riesling. For me, Greek mythology has more substance than pigeonholing colors and textures of wines going with certain foods.

I confess that when it is late in the fourth quarter with no timeouts, I will resort to the broad-brush approach of the ol’ “red with red, white with white, and pink with anything,” but it is mostly bunk for me after several years of gaining weight with that theory.

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In support of my rebellious idea, 1981 was my breakout year having been invited to judge a major California wine competition. I was as nervous as a burglar in church and sought technical skills calibration from my old pal and patriarch of Barnard Griffin Winery, Rob Griffin, then winemaker at Preston Winery in Pasco, Wash. After the tune-up on the normal faults/sugar/acid/tannin variations, he fed me reds and whites in black glasses, so color was absolutely undetectable. If you want a vexing challenge, try this most humbling experiment by tossing some reputed Merlot in a black glass and wax on poetic about its grassy, berry-like flavors, only to find out it is a Sauvignon Blanc.

Further, I pay homage to those that restate anthropocentric customs, claiming that wines that grow in a region are perfect matches with the indigenous foods, a sort of imagining Neanderthals knocking back the genetic ancestor of Pinot Noir with open-pit grilled Wooly Mammoth. Nice in theory, but the grapes from where we associate foods, like Escargot (snails for you Philistines, Weinbergschnecken for you Teutons), come from all over Europe — Germany, France, the Iberian Peninsula and elsewhere. Unless you are from Mesopotamia, or maybe New York, your grapes came to the region and the food grew around them.

Wine pairing is best considered not as wine and food pairing, but as wine and occasion pairing, or wine and mood pairing.

With your 12-ounce New York steak, you have an 18-ounce spud filled with 6 ounces of delectables, a green veggie and, with luck, some savory ’shrooms. You need a Malbec for the meat, however so as to not overpower the broccoli, a Sauvignon Blanc, then a Pinot Blanc for the stuffed potato and a Pinot Noir to match the fungus. And the dilemma then continues when the last 4 ounces of Malbec left in your glass and blackberry cobbler collide, despite the fruit and wine being the same color, ”Garcon, bring me a Port!”

My Rosso often fits a traditionally white dish, and my Bianco more often fits a traditionally red dish. For me, food and wine are independent decisions without much regard to color, texture or custom, but with total regard to what the company, mood or occasion require.

Also, some foods don’t taste good with wine even though there are folks that will try to convince you otherwise. Like what wine goes well with Jalepeno Mahi Mahi Tacos? Viognier? Rose of Counoise? Maybe, but probably NO. Margaritas! Cervesa! SI!

And I can’t begin to end this written Haka Dance without discussing what kind of wine goes with breakfast. Oh, come on. We know you go on vacation, we know you get up on Sunday morning in ragged pajamas, bare-foot it to the fridge and yank out a bottle of Domaine Ste. Michelle Brut Rose to take back to the sack. C’mon. And as they say, sparkling wine isn’t just for breakfast anymore, you can drink it during brunch too!

Now pay attention, because I am a highly paid wine writer and what I say is of utmost value. You should let the occasion and mood drive the decisions on what wines to have with your foods, and conversely, what foods to have with your wines. Have breakfast for dinner, and dinner for lunch. Drink a Cab Franc with the Chicken Alfredo and a Gewurztraminer with your sirloin. If it is warm, drink white until it cools down, and if it is cool, drink red until it warms up.

And, consistent with my past exits, drink wine always with pals and grub, in moderation, frequently. Arrivederci!

This story was originally published September 5, 2017 1:26 PM.


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