Help a wine-challenged fellow give a good dinner.
March 30, 2009 8:40 PM   Subscribe

How do you find out what kind of wine goes with what kind of meal?

I'm mostly a teetotler, but I'm having some people over to have dinner later this week, and I've always been led to believe that one should serve wine to guests. Unfortunately, since I rarely drink, I don't know very much about wine.

Where would you look online to find a good reference?

(Alternately, what kind of wine goes well with fettuchini carbonara, topping out pricewise in the $25 range?)
posted by mephron to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The usual principle is white wine with fish, rose with foul, and red wine with red meat.

But if you look at the wine list at a lot of restaurants, you'll see this: "The right wine is the wine you like."

If you want to know what wine to serve your guests, call them and ask them what wine they prefer. Tell them that you don't know anything about it.

And like as not, they'll then offer to bring wine, so you won't have to worry about it.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:00 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oops... "rosé with fowl" (damned homonyms)
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2009

here might be a good place to start.
posted by dunderwood at 9:01 PM on March 30, 2009

Here's another wine-pairing website, with a search feature. It recommends Barolo or Shiraz.

Personally, I'd recommend Ruffino Chianti, but that's just me. It's Italian, like Barolo. It's not heavily oaked, so it's easy to drink. Then again, I'm not a wine expert, just a wine drinker.
posted by Houstonian at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2009

Best answer: You are interested in "wine pairings," and if you Google that term, you will turn up a lot of introductory guides. For example,

WineIntro: Wine Pairing by Food Type

Enophile Blog: Wine Pairing Tips

Wine pairings can be pretty individual; one person might prefer a dry riesling where another likes a sauvignon blanc.

For your type of pasta dish, a lot of people prefer a crisp/dry type of white wine, served chilled. Your food is rich but not as strongly flavored as a pasta with a red meat sauce. White wines tend to be lighter in flavor, and picking one that tastes dry, and not too high in alcohol, will help to cut through the richness. You could try a chardonnay, e.g., or a sauvignon blanc. A California pinot gris or pinot grigio could also go with your dish and a lot of wine novices find it easy to learn to like.

There are wine review websites like Cork'd that can help you casually look at wines by price and type, but it's not always clear what you'll find when you visit the wine section of the grocery store or a wine shop, although many inexpensive wines are very widely distributed.

But keep in mind that you don't need to serve wine to your guests just because it seems like dinner parties often include wine. There's nothing wrong with offering water, juice, or soda if you prefer not to drink.

Also, you probably don't even need to spend $25 — there are a lot of very drinkable wines that can be found for $10-15 and less.

On preview, yeah, why not ask your guests what they'd like to drink? Good idea.
posted by jeeves at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2009

(er, link)
posted by Houstonian at 9:15 PM on March 30, 2009

I have noticed that I tend to pair everything with red wines by default, so take this suggestion with a grain of salt, but if you don't follow Chocolate Pickle's excellent advice to leave it up to your guests, then I suggest a Cabernet Sauvignon with carbonara, or a California cabernet. I think of it as a good all-purpose heavier pasta accompaniment, tho I will admit I tend to pair food with the wine I want to drink rather than the other way around. A solid Spanish or Italian table wine will go great with carbonara, too, like Torre Oria reserva or Red Bicyclette (not great, but fine).

Even better, is finding the closest vineyard and going with something local - not for any political agenda, but because the wine is usually in better condition the closer you source it to where you serve it. You find vineyards in the weirdest places in the US nowadays, so it's not the strange proposition it once was...I googled "New Jersey vineyard" and got tons of listings.
posted by annathea at 9:17 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: btw, I justify pairing a red wine with carbonara because it's pork/bacon-based and can be kind of heavy. White wines would work just fine, but are not to my taste when eating pasta.
posted by annathea at 9:21 PM on March 30, 2009

Carbonara's a white sauce, but a pretty robust one, yes? I'd probably go with a white, maybe a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc, something crisp as jeeves suggests to balance against all that cream. You could do a red if you like, and I'd recommend something not heavy -- again, lighter and crisper. Maybe a beaujolais (stay the fuck away from nouveau) or a Côtes du Rhône?
posted by middleclasstool at 9:23 PM on March 30, 2009

White wines with white meats and red wines with red, so the vomit doesn't clash.
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:36 PM on March 30, 2009

The idea of a 'right wine' to go with a 'right meal' only seems to be either a suggestion for the majority of wine drinkers to me or only a hard and fast rule for wine snobs. This is so much more about taste and people are drifting away from the 'hard and fast rule' style of doing this, as noted above.

I'd be tempted to look at the links posted and have a white and red wine in reserve anyway. Then people can follow any path they so choose, and you end up with happy guests.
posted by Brockles at 9:39 PM on March 30, 2009

Look, Brockles is right -- there are no hard and fast rules. That said, when you make the right pairing it enhances both food and wine.

I'll be the single naysayer to a super high acid white which can come off as even more acidic when paired against a rich & heavy pasta. Think about pairing in terms of weight -- sure, you want some acid to balance out the fat but you also need something with enough body that it will stand up to the heavy cream. A sturdy table red from Italy is serviceable, even better would be a stainless steel chard -- say a nice white burgundy, though that will set you back more than $25. There you get the acid without sacrificing the body like you'd have to with a sauv blanc. there are some nice domestic examples right now out of Oregon for under $20. Alternately look for a Soave from Italy... similar flavor profile, nice price point.
posted by melogranato at 10:16 PM on March 30, 2009 [1 favorite]

You know what I'd serve with a carbonara, especially if it was a salty one? A cold dry beer like a pilsner, and lots of it. Damn, I'm getting thirsty even thinking about it.

Of course that's just me, and I often drink red wine with fish, and white wine with red meat meals. If you want to serve a pinot noir with a stir fry, I think you should perfectly free. Or, to go with your battered fish, a chunky red wine with the words "good for barbecues" on the label and an aftertaste like a punch in the mouth, you should do that too. Chardonnay with a hamburger? Do it. Soave with a steak? Why not? Wine pairing rules are made by people who want to make people feel bad for not eating and drinking as "well" as they think they do. It's subjective and if it's taken too far, it's snobbish.

It's simple. You're having people around for a big meal and a few drinks. You share food as a ritual of friendship and trust, not for the nutrition or the flavour. The alcohol's there for the effect first, and the taste a distant second.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 10:29 PM on March 30, 2009

I concur with Chocolate pickle- I would send an email to your guests saying "I am just learning about wines, can you please suggest your favorite? We will be serving xyz. "

My money says that not only will you get suggestions, but most house guests will also bring a wine for you to try. You can then serve these bottles along with the ones they suggested, and a grand time will be had by all.

Just for the record, I never, ever, ever thought the day would come when I would say "I concur with Chocolate Pickle"
posted by crazyray at 10:33 PM on March 30, 2009

Even though it sounds heretical, I'd actually go for a fizz to cut the salt and cream. Asti Spumante and prosecco don't really fit, so a good Cali or Oregon sparkling will do you fine, possibly even a rosé. (You could also support your local fizz-making winemakers, as annathea suggests.)

If you want a red, something like a Barbera d Asti; for a still white, Orvieto.

As for pairings in general, it's really best to build on what you know: chacun à son whatnot.
posted by holgate at 10:45 PM on March 30, 2009

Best answer: Food and wine pairing is not about snobbism, it's about texture and taste. You should always imagine what the taste of the wine will do to the texture of the food.

The tannins (bitter, drying, tangy stuff) in red wine will make it bad for a fatty, creamy dish like carbonara. Carbonara is pretty velvety, what with the fat of the bacon/pancetta, the eggs, the cream, the parmiggiano cheese, and the tannins will attack the layer of fat that the food will leave on your tongue and palate. It will be awkward and I wouldn't recommend it.

I think with carbonara, I'd serve a light, non oaked white wine like a muscadet sur lie, possibly even champagne. Don't choose a white that is too fruity either (like NZ sauvignon), because the fruit will dominate the meat and eggs. Muscadet sur lie and champagne are a great match because they both contain yeast, which gives some body to sustain the heaviness of the dish, but the muscadet (and champagne, naturally) is a very light and pleasant wine in itself. Thanks to the lie/yeast, it will be like eating a piece of sourdough bread with your bacon/eggs/cheese, see?

You could also go with beer. You can never go wrong with beer and pork. A Hoegaarden white beer (Texas White in US, I believe) should fit nicely. Serve very chilled and add a slice of lemon, the bitter/sour combination will rinse your mouth between forkfuls of food, and the yeast of the beer will also support the fatty, umami feeling of carbonara, much like champagne would.
posted by NekulturnY at 2:04 AM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's chemistry. Opposites attract and like attracts like. So if you have something oily you go for astringent, if you have something sweet you can go for something a tad bitter. And on and on. Know you food, develop taste buds and find their equal or opposite/complements in a wine.
posted by watercarrier at 2:07 AM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: I really like the book What to Drink With What You Eat. It's got tons of wine info as well as beer and other beverages.
posted by Atom12 at 5:59 AM on March 31, 2009

I was just going to recommend What to Drink With What You Eat as well. It's a great one-stop reference.
posted by dfan at 6:33 AM on March 31, 2009

I was just going to recommend What to Drink with What You Eat, too! I like it because you can look things up either way--if you've got some port, you can look that up and find it goes well with chocolate, and if you've got chocolate, you can look that up and find it goes well with port. It also tells you what the very best pairings are, and then the ones that are good, and then the ones that are just okay.
posted by HotToddy at 7:36 AM on March 31, 2009

If you're willing to consider good beers instead of wines, Garrett Oliver's The Brewmaster's Table explores how beers pair well with foods. Due to a greater variety in recipes (all wines are grapes, natural yeast, beer is grains, hops, yeast, spices, and more!), beer can pair more accurately and with a greater variety of foods than wine can. He argues (correctly, in my opinion) that certain cuisines (Thai, Mexican, for example) don't pair well with any wines, but there are beers for any food. It's an entertaining read, regardless of whether you have time to read it this week, or have to put it off till later.
posted by explosion at 1:45 PM on March 31, 2009

Best answer: My rule of thumb, and it's contrary to a lot of advice here, is that the wine should serve as a good alternate - a good pallatte cleanser for the meal.

You know when you have a meal & it's delicious for the first 2 or 3 bites, but then begins to be the same & by the end you're entirely too used to the taste? Well a good wine can reverse that.

So I'll do sweet with savory, savory with sweet. The wine I pick is opposite the food I eat.

Of course, a similar, but ever so different taste can enhance the eating experience too, but that's where experimentation comes in. What's similar enough, but different enough that you're tasting the differences and not the similarities?

Perhaps a bit too simplistic, but very easy to remember for a beginner (like me).
posted by MesoFilter at 8:01 PM on March 31, 2009 [1 favorite]

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