SHORT ORDER PAIRINGS
Nothing is beyond being paired with wines—even fast food
Nothing is beyond being paired with wines—even fast food
There is a veritable ocean of scientific studies that tell us that a glass of wine with a meal is good for our health. This research tells us that red wines can reduce blood sugar, lower the risk of heart attacks, and protect against certain types of dementia. The American Journal of Epidemiology even published an article suggesting that wine intake could reduce the risk of falling prey to the common cold. But the main reason for sipping a glass of wine with our lunch or dinner, as every reader of this magazine knows, is that wine makes food taste better, while also encouraging conversation to flow. These qualities make it an integral part of every meal—even one eaten at a food court or picked up from a food truck or fast food restaurant.
Not all wines are created equal, however. Some are just more food-friendly than others. Think of them as the Meryl Streeps of the wine world: charming and versatile, with a broadly appealing style, but also with plenty of personality. These are wines that can sit majestically on the grandest restaurant tables, but would be equally at home in a burger bar.
The characteristics that make a wine more adaptable when it comes to food pairing can be clearly identified. First: zippy acidity. Acidity is the quality that refreshes the palate and lifts and balances flavours.
Second: wines with broad, subtle fruit characters gracefully support and interact with the flavours of food, as opposed to wines with a fiercely varietal character that dominate rather than harmonise with a dish. For example, not all Sauvignon Blancs are foodfriendly. After all, gooseberries and cat’s pee (the most common tasting descriptions of the variety) do not go with everything. When it comes to red wines, look for those with softer, mellower tannins because excessively tannic wines are usually perceived as having a slightly bitter flavour and an astringent mouthfeel. In short, food-friendly wines are those that create a synergy between the food and the wine, which results in a luscious new flavour that transcends the individual elements of the meal.
Many of the dishes that fall into the category of fast food are fried or deep-fried. Apart from adding an attractive, delicate whiff of smokiness, frying creates a slight oily sensation in the mouth that cries out for palate-cleansing acidity. That is why sparkling wines—and yes, that includes champagne—make super partners for street foods. Their fresh acidity, subtle flavours and lively bubbles pair brilliantly with fried chicken, fish and chips, chimichangas (deepfried burritos), arancini (stuffed rice balls), or any of the many deep-fried meat, vegetable or chickpea-based croquettes.
Look for wines that are labelled Extra Dry or Crémant. Please note that ‘Extra Dry’ does not mean drier. Rather, the term indicates a wine with a certain sweetness: this is often perceived as fullness or fruitiness on the palate and complements the batter on most fried food. The term ‘Crémant’ indicates a sparkling wine that has a lower internal pressure in
the bottle: this means the wine will be frothier and have a more mouth-filling sensation, rendering it softer and seemingly more fruity. In France, this style is found in Alsace, Burgundy, the Loire, Limoux and the Jura. In the Italian sparkling wine production zone of Franciacorta, these less effervescent wines are referred to as Satèn. Other commonly found sparklers from Italy that fit the bill are Prosecco and Trentodoc, the latter made, like Franciacorta, with a second fermentation in bottle.
A BLANC SLATE
Still white wines that share the above characteristics of broad fruity flavours and crisp acidity are breathtakingly versatile. Look for wines made from the following grape varieties: unoaked or very lightly oaked Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Blanc, Fiano, Grillo, Pinot Grigio, Sémillon (and Sémillon/ Sauvignon Blanc blends), Silvaner, Kerner, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Glera (the grape variety used for Prosecco), Garganega (the primary grape variety in Soave), Grüner Veltliner from Austria, and any dry example of the vast Muscat/Moscato family.
Not only can wines made from these varietals partner fried food, they can also accompany sushi and sashimi, as well as tacos, enchiladas, chicken pot pie, chicken or pork satay, and an assortment of sandwiches, including bánh mì, pulled pork, a BLT (bacon, lettuce and tomato), chicken salad and croquet monsieur.
I asked José Rallo, fifth generation of the family that owns the famed Sicilian winery Donnafugata, what she would pair with her sprightly Sur Sur, made from 100 per cent Grillo grapes. “I love to drink it with fried calamari. The wine is an easy gourmet pairing for everyday and street food, when you want to take a break from routine.”
Teresa Bacco of Agostino Vicentini Winery noted: “Recently I sampled a variety of street foods in the Padua, Venice area. Our Soave Terre Lunghe was matched with grilled shrimp tails, and I thought it was a perfect combination. It also paired well with salami and cheese sandwiches, and with grilled vegetables.”
For me, a match made in heaven is a glass of lightly peachy and floral Pinot Blanc d’Alsace with peanut butter on white bread. A true synergy is achieved because peanut butter has a mellow flavour and creamy texture: it is like a blank canvas just waiting for the burst of vibrant fruitiness that this wine provides.
RIGHT WITH ROSÉS
Rosés are also safe bets. Not only are they fresh and fruity, they also tend to have a bit more weight on the palate, soft tannins and a lively, appealing colour.
Some connoisseurs claim rosé is ideal with a hot dog loaded with sauerkraut. I often pair it with a buttery lobster roll, but it would go equally well with the crisp and crunchy flavour of chicken tacos or Thai fish cakes, as well as a steaming bowl of fried Hokkien noodles.
Franco Cristoforetti, owner of the Villabella estate, suggests serving crispy fried whitebait with his Bardolino Chiaretto, while Fabio Contato, of Cà Maiol winery in Lombardy, recommends Roseri— made from Gropello grapes—with pizza alla romana (mozzarella, tomatoes, anchovies) especially with the addition of thinly sliced ham.
Look for rosés that include these grape varieties in their blends: Gamay, Cabernet Franc, Carignan, Cinsault, Mourvèdre, Merlot, Cannonau, Lambrusco, Lagrein, Corvina, Nebbiolo, Montepulciano, Carmenère, Sangiovese, Syrah, Pinot Noir, Barbera, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo (Cerasuolo), Gaglioppo (Cirò Rosato), Groppello, Negroamaro, and Grenache. This latter variety is a main component in many of the most famous wines of Provence. In Spain, it goes by the name Garnacha, and is the principal grape in most Navarra Rosados.
Food-friendly reds will have the requisite sprightly acidity, but they will also have less aggressive tannins, along with softer flavours of identifiable cherry/berry fruits. This leads to supple wines that caress the palate rather than jar with the dishes they are accompanying.
Look for those made from grape varieties such as: Pinot Noir, Gamay (Beaujolais), Dolcetto, Lambrusco, Cabernet Franc (Chinon, Cabernet d’Anjou), Blaufränkisch (Austria), Dolcetto, Tempranillo, Nebbiolo, Sangiovese, Barbera or Montepulciano, among others.
These wines will wrap themselves around and enhance the flavour of meat-based sandwiches such as sliced deli counter meats, bratwurst and sausages in general. They will wash down any of the world’s many meat pies (pasties, empanadas, calzoni), grilled meat skewers, kebabs and brochettes, and hamburgers with every kind of condiment.
Giovanni Sidoli, export manager of the Monte delle Vigne winery in Emilia-Romagna, suggests matching dry Lambrusco with a prosciutto and Sambal Petai parmesan cheese sandwich. In fact, the luscious fruitiness of the wine works well with pork-based dishes in general. Sweeter Lambruscos can also make a perfect foil for saucy, piquant barbecued ribs.
My personal favourite pairing in this category is Romagna Sangiovese with the soft, almost creamy blandness of a bean burrito. The wine exalts the texture of the food and adds a pleasing burst of fruit flavour that lifts this humble Tex-Mex staple into another taste dimension.
Enrico Drei Donà suggests serving his family winery’s Romagna Sangiovese with guancia di vitello brasata al Sangiovese (braised veal cheek with Sangiovese sauce), a pulled pork sandwich or a hamburger with caramelised onions, cheese and bacon.
So, the next time you are heading for fast food, perhaps you should slow down just a little. Forego that gassy cola or beer, or that sedate glass of tea, and pour yourself a healthy, refreshing, conversationstarting glass of wine. After all, as the Father of Gastronomy and epicure extraordinare Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said: “A meal without wine is like a day without sunshine.”
This page Sparking wines make for a super pairing with deepfried food
This page Foodfriendly reds enhance the flavour of meaty burgers