Photo By: Sarah Manning/Special to the Town Crier
Great holiday parties are elevated by great food, and great food is lonely without equally excellent wine. But while many of us eat and drink by an ancient set of rules – red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, for example – we’re often stumped when it comes to throwing a brilliant holiday bash.
The task of pairing food and wine for guests can be daunting. But it needn’t be. Sam Pompei, a Los Altos native and importer/distributor with Wine Bridge Imports, said feeling intimidated is unnecessary. Pompei spent two years after college traveling the world and working with wine – production, exports, tourism and marketing included – and picked up some tricks along the way.
Heed Pompei’s tips for your best holiday bash yet.
Five golden rules for pairing food and wine
1. Pick the food first. Then choose a wine to pair with it. It’s a lot more difficult to pick the wine first and in doing so, you limit yourself. With food, you have many different elements to work with – fruit, spice, herbs and meat – which can be highlighted individually and accentuated by a great wine.
2. Let food be the focus. Never try to outdo the food with the wine. Build your wine selection around the food you’re planning to cook. Wine is the supplement that either complements, offends or falls flat next to your dish. Hint: Wines with more acidity are best for food pairing, especially if your dish contains a lot of fat.
3. Branch out. We all have our favorite wines that seem to go with just about anything. Be careful, however, that you don’t force a pair together. The trick is to widen your view to the limitless possibilities and be adventurous. Try something new.
4. There’s no wrong choice. Don’t let anybody tell you that you’re wrong to select certain pairings. Light reds can be delicious with oily salmon, for example. It’s about what you like, not what you’re supposed to do. Have fun, enjoy the process and don’t make it too difficult on yourself.
5. Ask for help. There are many educated people out there who would love to help you. Seek out specialty wine shops or the wine section at your local gourmet grocery store for knowledgeable advisers. It’s their job to know the wine, and they love collaborating. Don’t limit yourself to your own knowledge.
In case you need a little more guidance, following are a few unique and delicious pairings for the holiday season with Pompei’s commentary. Whether you follow them precisely or use them as inspiration for your own creations, you’re sure to delight guests.
Go-to holiday food and wine pairings
• Sancerre from France with herbed goat cheese (never gets old!).
• Aged Hunter Valley Semillon from Australia with fresh oysters (classic is champagne with oysters, but if you want a real treat, try the Semillon).
• Central Otago Pinot Noir from New Zealand with a Christmas ham (phenomenal).
Sarah Manning is a Los Altos High School and University of San Francisco graduate who blogs about her culinary adventures at www.thechocolatefigSF.com.