As children, even before learning how to walk or how to use the potty, we are taught the sacred golden rule: "Sparkling wine is for the aperitif. White wine goes with fish. Red wine goes with meat. Muscat wine is for the dessert." (Also, notice that there is no mention of rosé wines in the diktat, but do not worry: the topic is saved for a future discussion.)
However, with great sorrow, I must tell you that this founding pillar of your oenology wisdom is false. We agree though... a fillet of steamed sole - a lame dish, really - and a 2009 Barolo Luigi Oddero is not a match made in heaven for sure.
Let's take a step back then.
The main aim of combining a certain food with a certain wine is to emphasise the specific organoleptic features of both. There are two key types of combination:
- Based on resemblance, where wine and food are combined according to the features that they share
Sweet - Sweet
Spicy - Spicy
Aromatic - Aromatic
Persistency - Persistency
Texture - Texture
In this case, sweet dishes will be served with sweet wines - and this means that prosecco with panettone is a no-no! - while a spicy dish, like one with pepper or clove, can be served with a wine that prompts a similar aroma. Persistency and texture - i.e. for how long the mouth feel of a food or a wine lasts after swallowing - helps us understand the issue with the reckless combination that has been mentioned before: a very delicate steamed sole fillet should not be served with a very textured and persistent Barolo.
- Based on contrast
In this case, it may help to think of the arms of an old-fashioned scale: a very salty dish should not be served with a salty wine. It is a question of finding the right balance between food and wine to assure a pleasant overall result.
Salinity, bitterness, acidity
A fatty dish delivers a mouth feel of heaviness that can be relieved by complementing the food with a fresh (acid) wine, possibly a sparkling one. A succulent dish, served with its cooking juice, like a raw red meat, should be complemented by a warm wine (jargon for wine with high alcohol content). You may be familiar with the mouth feel you get in the morning after a long night out drinking, when your mouth feels super dry and you crave water - that's because alcohol dries mouth liquids.
Now, let's go back to my initial provocation. As you see, I have never mentioned the colour of the wine in any of the combinations because the emphasis here is not on the colour, but rather on the wine texture, aroma, alcohol content, etc.
Fish is not always delicate or tasteless, just like meat is not always heavy and textured - in fact, consider a broiled swordfish, or a dish of linguine with a prawn and tomato sauce, or an escalope, or a carpaccio.
If I may, I would like to leave you with some successful combinations. You will be the judges.
Beef carpaccio with arugula and parmesan cheese.
2007 Reserve of Trento DOC Maso Martis Brut (www.masomartis.it)
Polesine oysters au naturel
Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine AOC Sur Lie Les Houx Jo Landron 2017
Assolto Teroldego Rotaliano rosato DOC Redondel (www.redondel.it)