It’s difficult enough to know which wood flavors to pair with food. Sure, everyone knows the classic Cedar planked salmon combination. But what about cherry? What about alder? And once you start to think in terms of a whole meal and adding a nice bottle of wine, it can become stressful trying to find just the right combination of flavors. But wine pairing does not have to be complicated! Nor wood flavor pairings!
Restaurant diners, dinner party guests and hosts alike agonize over getting the right wine to accompany a specific meal. “But if I add tarragon, will this Chablis still be the right choice?”
Scrutinized pairings of beverage and food is actually a recent phenomenon. The old rule of thumb was this: drink reds with red meat and red sauces, and whites with chicken, fish, and pasta.
But then those seemingly “need to be tackled before you even crack the bottle” questions crept in around our dinner table.
Does it have to be this hard? It’s just juice, really. And enjoying said juice with food is as straight-forward as choosing one that you enjoy the taste of and drinking it. Your pallet cannot be wrong – if you like the taste, it is the right wine for you.
Richard Betts, author and well-known wine dude, put it best “wine is a grocery, not a luxury.”
How to Pair Wine with Food
With those two things in mind – if you like it, it’s good and wine is a grocery item – there are a couple olfactory “rules” to keep in mind.
- The nose knows. Give it a sniff.
- Basic characteristics: Fruit – Wood – Earth. (maybe a good band name?)
Wine Pairing Chart: Grilling Planks, Smoking Chips & Wine
The relationship between wine and wood is a long and notable one. To completely oversimplify, wood is one of the three cardinal olfactory characteristics, along with fruit and earth.
Here is our wood-wine flavor pairing chart:
- Cedar: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Petite Syrah
- Alder: Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc
- Maple: Syrah, Beaujolais
- Cherry: Pinot Noir, Merlot
- Hickory: Carmenere, Cab Franc
- Oak: Cabernet Sauvignon, Primitivo
- Mesquite: Malbec, Red Zinfandel, Tempranillo, Garnacha
- Apple: Sauvignon Blanc, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Picpoul
Wine Pairing Basics: The Go-To Bottles
Now, if you want to throw that whole concept of pairing out the window, here are some good go-to options.
Choose a bottle that has moderate to high acidity, moderate alcohol, and not much oak. A good hint is looking for reds that you can see through. Pinot Noirs generally hit the mark. Sangiovese and Cab Franc can do the trick as well.
Not-So-Pro Tips about Wine Drinking
- Don’t decant champagne.
- It’s not all in the wrist. When swirling wine, use your elbow and shoulder to generate the aerating motion.
- Expensive doesn’t = good.
- A double-hinged wine key (waiter corkscrew) is the only wine opener you’ll ever need.
- “It’s just booze – drink it!” Charles Smith, named wine maker of the year by Food & Wine (2009) and Wine Enthusiast (2014)
- Don’t make wine suicides. Empty glass before refilling your glass with a different wine.
- Enjoying a nice rosé is no reason to blush.
- Don’t fear the screw cap.