“Vino bianco con pesce. Con carne, rosso.” (“White wine with fish. With meat, red.”) Old Italian saying.
Old sayings have to get started someplace, but this one really makes me scratch my head sometimes. How did this one get started? Who really sat down and taste-tested different wines with different dishes and how did this person arrive at this conclusion? Really makes me wonder sometimes. After all, wine has been known as “The nectar of the gods” since time immemorial. Was it the gods who decided this? Which one in particular had the final say? Cast the deciding vote?
Traditionally, I feel that white wine has been paired with fish in part at least because of the color. Fish dishes are pale in color with the fish itself usually white. Maybe it is because of this, fish is expected to be light, almost airy and delicate to the palate. A white wine, a pinot grigio or a sauvignon blanc actually shares some of those qualities. But, fish is also cooked often with lemon, adding a citrusy flavor and bouquet. With that in mind, wouldn’t that mean that some of the flavor of the food would meld with the wine and instead of complementing it, it would instead only be more of the same, delicious though it may be. There may be no contrast, no boldness.
The same could be said for pairing reds with beef. Few things in life can rival a good, juicy steak or a perfect meatball. Typically, a hearty wine such as a chianti is preferred. Again, though, there is no contrast. A real bold red wine, which is also used in Sunday gravy, while it will not overpower the meat, may to some tastes get lost and mix the flavors into one. Maybe a chardonnay would be a nice change.
My own opinion is simple: drink what you like. Life is too short to drink bad wine or to worry about which wine goes with what. Food and wine were given to us to enjoy, to fulfill and to add to life’s experience. Try not to limit your enjoyment. If you should find a wine you enjoy, stick with it and experiment. You will be able to see for yourself which pairings are best for you.
The old saying above probably began as something of a myth and has grown through the centuries. Think about it though. People once thought the earth was flat. That the sun and stars revolved around the earth. It took bold, adventurous people to dispel those myths and maybe that is what we need to do now.
As time goes on you will find your own favorites, your own sense of pairing. These minor indulgences are limitless, bound only by your imagination, your sense of adventure. This world has produced many fine wines and some very fine foods. Taste them. Experience them. Enjoy them. Never be guided by a myth. For to do that, would truly be a myth-take.
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