Top Ten Food and Wine Hall of Fame
by Courtney Cochran
As with so many things in life, trends in food and wine come and go. One season, chefs scramble to pair Riesling with faddish new foam sauces, the next they're matching up Cabernet with the likes of PB&J. But a handful of tried-and-true pairings consistently rise above these of-the-moment fads, delivering the unsurpassed pleasure that can only result from an absolutely perfect marriage of food and wine. Read on for our favorites, and bon appétit.
Lifestyles of the Briny & Bubbly
With a tagline like "Champagne wishes & caviar dreams" it's no wonder the popular TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous was such a hit. But this famous food and wine pair have more in common than just air time: They're one of the most highly rated wine and food matches of all time thanks to their wonderfully complementary nature. Laser-crisp Champagne is the perfect foil to the briny taste of caviar, whose bulbous texture is in turn perfectly echoed in that of Champagne's (and Champagne-style wines') bubbles.
Anyone who's tried a tangy Sauvignon Blanc can attest to the fact that it's one of the most acidic varietals on the market. But this zip is also what makes it one of the world's foremost wines for food, and among foods there are few that pair better with Sauvignon than tangy young goat cheese (that's chèvre for Francophiles). Whether warmed over a salad, folded into an empanada or served à la carte, goat cheese finds its match in assertive, herbaceous Sauvignon - the ultimate wine of picnics and the spring season.
Few things afford more sheer gastronomic pleasure than freshly caught crab washed back with cool-climate Chardonnay. When grown in spots like France's northerly Chablis and Sonoma's fog-shrouded Russian River Valley, Chardonnay develops a sturdy backbone of acidity alongside its inherent buttery flavors - an ideal backdrop for the likes of savory crab prepared in a simple lemon butter sauce. For richer crawlers like lobster, reach for more full-bodied Chardonnays such as those from Napa Valley or France's Meursault.
For the Sake of It
Some food and wine matches are so obvious that we overlook them, at times even working ourselves into a frenzy searching for ephemeral alternatives to pairings that shouldn't be tinkered with in the first place. Such is the case with sake and sashimi, two Japanese delicacies that couldn't be engineered to go together any better than they already do: Sake's cool floral flavors and hint of sweetness perfectly offset the brininess of sashimi and the heat brought on by wasabi. Trust us on this one - for pairing's Sake.
The Good Earth Gives
Attention, fungi fanatics! Another of our top food and wine pairings features none other than your favorite foodstuff and the wine world's undisputed varietal-of-the-moment, Pinot Noir. Mushrooms - with their earthy funkiness and silky texture achieved with cooking - perfectly echo Pinot's similarly earthy flavors and trademark velvety tannins. Pinots from Oregon's Willamette Valley and France's Burgundy harbor the most of this earthy quality, which shines alongside any number of dishes prepared with 'shrooms.
It's impossible to downplay the otherworldly experience that accompanies washing down über delicacy foie gras with Sauternes and similar sweet wines. The so-called "noble rot" that occasionally shrivels grapes into super concentrated nuggets of sweetness is what's behind these wines, and their honeyed flavors and crisp acidity flawlessly balance the oily texture and mega-rich flavors of foie. With the steep prices (not to mention the calories) that accompany these delicacies, this is a special-occasion pairing, for certain.
As far as we're concerned, the fabled song that claims "when the moon hits your eyes like a big pizza pie - it's amore!" is definitely on to something. And whether or not you agree that pizza can inspire passion, it's tough to deny the appeal of a well-made pie paired with a hearty California Zinfandel. This pie-perfect wine gets it all right - from its sweet fruit flavors that riff on those found in pizza sauce to its subtle peppery notes that echo those in the pie's spices - and makes a solid case for some serious amore of the food and wine persuasion.
Like foie gras and Sauternes, lamb and Cabernet Sauvignon make up a "classic" food and wine pairing that's achieved its stellar rep for good reason. The time-honored combination - which has been turning heads for centuries - is at its most sensational when the lamb is slow-cooked and the Cab well aged. This is when lamb's signature rich, gamey flavors reach their best expression and find their match in Cabernet's exquisite flavors and firm tannins, which mellow over time to a food-friendly frequency.
Anyone who's enjoyed a Reese's Peanut Butter Cup knows that salty peanut butter tastes great alongside sweet chocolate, and this same phenomenon applies to food and wine pairing, particularly when the salty substance is cheese. Super-salty blue cheese - in all its incarnations - is especially tasty when washed down with sweet wine: Roquefort with Sauternes and Stilton with Port top our list of favorite pairings, although it's tough to go wrong in this category. After all, there's a reason so many people are addicted to Reese's.
While there's undeniable appeal to pairing salty foods with sweet wines, there's also something refreshingly simple about sweet foods matched up with sweet wines. To wit, ruby-style Ports (and similar Port-style wines) win serious points when paired with chocolate: Port's trademark high alcohol cuts through chocolate's gooey, mouth-coating texture and leaves a show-stopping blend of chocolate-cherry flavored bliss in its wake. Call it fundamental: These sorts of moments are what food and wine pairing is all about.
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