When it comes to food and wine pairing, the vast majority of classic marriages seem to come from ideas of harmony and similarity. The herbal and grassy notes of certain white wines are matched up with peppery salad leaves, white fish fillets slathered in sage butter, or the fresh greenness of steamed vegetables. Deep red wines, aged and complex, are celebrated for their spiciness and savory characters and paired with dishes which follow similar sets of adjectives.
However, when we think of some of the truly great combinations out there – by no means limited to the realm of flavor and aroma – don’t opposites attract rather well, too? Are your favorite discoveries of fascinating combinations ones which bring together similar components, or ones which exult in and accentuate difference and contrast? Think of every great double act – whether it’s in music, comedy or film – and childhood flavor mixes like peanut butter and jelly, apples and cheddar cheese, salt and caramel… this is where the magic really happens.
… be bold, be brave, and go forth with an open mind!
The problem with these types of combinations, though, is that they’re generally discovered by chance. My student days were typified by food and drink combinations led by needing to eat whatever happened to be in the cupboard – orange marmalade on ginger biscuits, for example, made for a thrifty and delicious evening snack on more than one occasion – and frankly, fine wine is something which we generally want to avoid ruining by pairing with an unsuitable food. There’s little room for risk, and so discoveries of unusual food and wine pairings don’t come along so often. When they do, though, they tend to be memorable and exciting, and definitely worth sharing. With that in mind, I’ve put together some of my favorite unusual food and wine combinations for you to try, and for you to take inspiration from for the future. Some of these pairings are unusual because they seem to clash flavors and characteristics, others are perhaps unusual in their irreverence. However, they’re all tried and tested meetings of the edible and drinkable, so be bold, be brave, and go forth with an open mind!
Full English Breakfast and Bordeaux
Here’s a voyage of discovery for you. If you’ve never tried the full English breakfast, you’re in for a treat. The best part of a hungover morning in London, usually eaten around lunchtime, it features sausages and bacon, eggs, beans, mushrooms, tomatoes and toast (regional variations also include fried potatoes and seaweed in Wales and blood pudding in the north and Scotland). Have a glass of Bordeaux with it, and you’re onto a real winner. There’s something about the multi-layered flavors and roundness that come with the classic Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot combination we get from a good Bordeaux that works brilliantly with fried bacon and eggs, and once tried, it’s never forgotten. It’s the kind of combination that would make French farmers pick up their burning torches and pitchforks and head for the channel tunnel, but when it works, it works.
Champagne and French Fries
In fact, I’d even go as far as to say that Champagne works brilliantly with most fast food, but there’s something about the saltiness and oiliness of the good old french fry that goes fantastically with a glass of bubbly. Steer away from the increasingly popular Proseccos and Cavas for this one – they tend to be a touch too fruity. A classic brut Champagne is bone dry, acidic and has that elegant biscuit flavor that cleanses the palate perfectly when eating salty foods, from peanuts to pizza, and many others in between. Give it a try – it’ll taste fantastic, and you’ll look like a rock star to boot.
Cured Meat Selections and Lambrusco
When I was a teenager, Lambrusco was something which girls would ask their older cousins to buy for them before going to a party. It has never quite shaken off that bargain-bucket, supermarket standard reputation, typified by dull sweetness and bland character. Now, this is a bit of a disservice to what can be a fine Italian wine – the more expensive examples are delicious floral wines, bursting with red fruit flavors – and it ignores the fact that it can be great for food pairing. Serve it with your salami, prosciutto, and spicy sausages, and enjoy that uncomplicated fruitiness, lightness freshness, as it really does work as well as any other ‘sophisticated’ choice. If you’re a bit self-conscious of bringing out a bottle of Lambrusco, just decant it first and call it an Emilia-Romagna. Nobody will ever know.
Sherry and Sushi
There is plenty written out there about pairing wines with sushi, as this has generally been a pairing which is difficult to achieve. However, there’s no doubt that sushi has become a dominant force in the world of 21st-century global cuisine, and it’s worth thinking outside the box when it comes to finding something great to drink alongside the staples of Japanese food. The problem I find with many typical sushi and wine pairings is that they tend to focus on the most delicate aspects of the cuisine, but so much of a sushi dinner is quite robustly flavored – just think of all that tuna, ginger, wasabi and soy sauce! Get yourself a good bottle of Manzanilla Sherry (even if you don’t eat sushi, this fortified wine is a real treasure and belongs in everyone’s cabinet) and sip it with your raw fish and pickled rice. Its floral fragrances and intriguing saltiness will win you over and prove this combination a modern classic.
Australian Shiraz and Chocolate Cake
A good, dark, unctuous chocolate cake, all bittersweet and temptingly moist, goes brilliantly with a decent bottle of Australian Shiraz. There’s something about those deep red fruit flavors and smooth tannins that reminds me of kirsch-spiked black forest gateaux, and it’s one of those pairings that goes against intuition but delights on the palate.
Give these brilliantly odd combinations a try, and don’t be afraid to play with other salt-and-sweet combinations, either. There are some amazing pairings out there just waiting to be discovered and shared among your friends – throw caution to the wind, trust your instincts and your palate, and let us know how you get on!
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