While the traditional way to fashion a meal is to first choose a recipe and subsequently pick a wine based on that palate, what if you were able to do things completely differently and make your favorite bottle of wine the center of attention? In Chef Dominic Orsini's for , he does just that, laying out a simple formula for elevating any recipe to the level of wine at hand.
"I've found that when the cuisine plays a supporting role, the wines respond by highlighting the flavors of the food," says Orsini. "I cook what I want to eat based on the weather, time of year, and what is fresh and seasonal. The success of the pairing comes from using five basic techniques to balance the flavors, so the wines pair beautifully with the food." Here, Chef Orsini lays out his five tips and tricks to the art of pairing food and wine, debunking any notion that your seafood needs a white wine and that your steak calls solely for Cabernet.
"The weight of each dish should match the relative weight of the wine. Protein provides the weight in most recipes, but it doesn't have to come from meat, poultry or fish. It can come from grains, legumes and dairy, or umami-loaded ingredients like mushrooms or kombu. Think light proteins and vegetables with light white wines, or heavy-dark proteins with big bold reds."
*Pair Seared Pork Chops with braised red cabbage and quatre epices with Pinot Noir, Merlot or Spatburgunder German Pinot Noir
"A squeeze of lemon can brighten your cuisine in remarkable ways, and it will soften the wine to allow the fruit flavors to pop on the palate. The idea is to make sure the acidity level of the food approximates the acidity of the wine so that one doesn't outdo or compete with the other. Your palate begins to numb after your first couple sips of wine, and the salt helps to keep the food flavors amplified."
*Pair this Crab Arancini with crème fraiche and lemon and Ahi Tuna tacos with Sauvignon Blanc or Sancerre.
"Fat, starches and gelatin create mouth-coating flavors. The amount and type of fat in a dish can be determined by the acidity or tannins in the wine. A high-acid white wine, like Sauvignon Blanc, will pair well with an acid-based fat like a lemon-butter sauce, fresh goat cheese or an avocado-lime salsa. A tannic red wine, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, will do better with a protein-based fat like butter or a thickened broth-based sauce."
*Pair this Striped Bass en Pappillote with lentils, bacon, and watercress with Sauvignon Blanc, Twomey Pinot Noir or Chardonnay
"Sweet, bitter an spicy ingredients are the wild cards of wine pairing, inspiring both "love it" and "hate it" reactions. Sweet ingredients can help high-alcohol wines shine, but they will also make dry wines taste bitter. Bitter ingredients, such as radicchio, broccoli rabe, and escarole can make sweet wines taste dry and dry wines taste bitter. Sweet-and-sour balances can work with sweet or highly acidic wines, but wreak havoc on dry wines. And when it comes to spice, the heat can usually be tempered by sweet wines, but will devastate dry wines. Some of the hardest foods to complement? Asparagus, peanuts, tomatoes and artichokes."
*Pair this Jumbo Asparagus with Foraged Morel Mushrooms with Twomey Pinot Noir or coastal California Pinot Noir
"Contrast in a food and wine pairing makes things interesting, so shake it up a little. Can you pair a flaky white fish with a big, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon? Sure you can. But balance the lighter weight of the fish with an umami-heavy ingredient, like sautéed mushrooms. How about serving a grilled flank steak with Sauvignon Blanc? That's fine, too. The weight of this meat-derived protein is going to be heavy for the wine, so lighten it up by turning it into tacos. Add a napa cabbage coleslaw to balance the weight of the meat, and garnish with an acid-based fat, like guacamole. I find this simple approach to be an enormously freeing way of thinking about wine and food."
*Pair this Wild Salmon Confit with Merlot, Silver Oak Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon or a Tuscan Sangiovese.