Drink More Wine: Throw your own pairing party

What you drink with what you eat makes a huge difference.

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To get you to taste more broadly, and pay particular attention to food and wine matching, I’ve got some homework for you over the next month. Since spring is upon us and our thoughts turn toward lighter wines, gather your friends for an “expand your horizons wine-pairing party.”

In order to spread the burden and cost, invite a group and assign each person (or couple) a particular grape and a dish to serve the number of guests at the party. Ideally, every guest also needs to bring a glass for each white wine. Alternatively, you could use plastic tumblers, which are cheap at Costco. The perfect circumstance is to be able to go back and forth, comparing the wines several times, so it’s important for guests to have the correct number of glasses.

The more guests and wines you cover, the more complicated the task. Depending on the wine-drinking experience of your guests and your level of interest, select anywhere from three to eight wines (if you’re well-seasoned and/or particularly crazy).

What grapes should I look for? What foods should we pair?

Choose from the varietals listed below. Try to compare wines at similar price points. In most cases, that means choosing bottles between $10 and $20. Cheaper, or more expensive wines, may not be representative, or — in the case of wine at a higher price point — they may skew the results due to their extra complexity.

Remember that the goal is to have a small bite of each food with every wine. Here’s a list of potential grapes with eats that usually pair well:

Albariño: Grilled/spicy fish, shellfish.

Chardonnay: Lobster, crab, fish in butter sauce.

Chenin blanc: Sautéed fish with lemon.

Grüner veltliner: Asparagus, scallops.

Pinot grigio: Antipasto.

Riesling: Curry, blue cheese.

Sauvignon blanc: Goat cheese, tomatoes.

Verdejo: Roasted veggies, pesto.

Sample the wine before tasting the food. Your interest level might even lead you to take notes on paper using a grid. List the foods across the top and the wines down the side. As you taste every wine with a particular food, give it a score:

+2: Great match (both the wine and food improve).

+1: Fair (slight improvement for either the wine or food).

0: Neutral (no change).

-1: Poor (slightly detracts from either the wine or food).

-2: Bad match (both the wine and food suffer).

Another objective is to expand your exposure to these grapes. If you’re only drinking three wines, try to sample at least two grapes that are new to you.

What should we look for while tasting?

As you sip, note the wine’s body/fruit (light to full), sugar (dry to sweet) and acidity (low to high). Then taste each one with a bit of food. Sample the same food with the wine and note the success of the match as listed above. Then move to the next food and taste through the wines. As you finish every round and proceed to a new food, begin with the wine listed above as a typically good match, working your way through all the wine selections.

My hope is for you to discover a new varietal. But if nothing else, you’ll see that what you drink with what you eat makes a huge difference.

About The Author

Jon Palmer Claridge

Jon Palmer Claridge—Tampa Bay's longest running, and perhaps last anonymous, food critic—has spent his life following two enduring passions, theatre and fine dining. He trained as a theatre professional (BFA/Acting; MFA/Directing) while Mastering the Art of French Cooking from Julia Child as an avocation. He acted...
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