A common question everyone seems to have is “what wine should I drink with this food?”. While I usually feel like you should drink whatever wine you feel like drinking, there is something to be said for pairing an appropriate wine with the food you are eating. A full-bodied rich red wine can easily overshadow a very nicely done tilapia filet, inhibiting you from fully appreciating the flavor of the fish. The opposite can also be true when you are eating a juicy marinated and grilled flank steak with a light Sauvignon Blanc. So, I asked myself, what is the best way to get a good balance between pairing an appropriate wine with a dish, yet still drinking a wine that appeals to you? My good friend had the idea to have a food and wine pairing dinner, and this was the perfect time to test out what makes the perfect balance.
After throwing around a few ideas, we ultimately landed on having salmon. Salmon is a little bit tricky, when it comes to fish salmon has a much stronger flavor than, say, flounder. With a light fish it is standard to drink a white wine or even a Rosé, however, salmon being what it is I am tempted to pair it with a red wine (also, because I like red wine). We decided to do a cajun salmon with rice and a side of oven roasted tomatoes and avocado with goat cheese. After work I went over to Plum Market to pick up a bottle of wine and a few of the ingredients we needed. Given that the spices I’d be using would be more flavorful, I had decided that I wanted to go with a red wine, on the lighter side, and found a French Pinot Noir with an adorable fox on the label that I thought would be a nice light red wine to pair with a more flavorful salmon. Light enough not to overpower the fish, yet not too light that it was drowned out by the cajun spice.
The Pinot Noir, Le Renard Pinot Noir Bourgogne 2011, was indeed very light. A note on Pinot, Burgundy, where this bottle was produced, is where the grape originated, and has since spread all over the world, to old and new world vineyards alike. In Burgundy the focus of the grape is more on the soil and climate than on the actual quality of the grape itself. There is much variation from region to region on how the grape is produced, therefore much variety. This particular bottle had aromas of fresh red fruits, some spice, and a bit of black pepper on the nose. It is a pale red color, as is typical of a Pinot Noir, with slight orange undertones, indicating that it is a bit aged. The palate was of fresh raspberries and cherries with a mild acidity not much of a finish. I tend to prefer a wine with a bit more body to it, but considering I intentionally went for a lighter bodied red wine, it was pretty good. Overall I would rate the wine, stand-alone, at about an 8. But the real question here is not what the wine by itself would be rated, it is how the wine paired with the food.
As I said earlier, I have never paid much heed to the conventions of wine and food pairing. If I want to drink a Tempranillo with seafood pasta I will, thank you very much. The point of this, however, is to learn why such wine and food pairings exist and to evaluate them for myself. Being a light bodied red wine, the Pinot Noir went very well with the salmon. There were times where the wine even felt drowned out by the cajun spice that flavored the salmon, so I think that even a more medium bodied red wine also could have worked well. I think that a Rosé or a Chardonnay would have also paired nicely with the dish, however, as it is January, I didn’t feel like drinking a chilled beverage. Overall, the wine was a good choice, the light flavors complemented the flavors in both the salmon and the other dishes well, but I think it could have handled a slightly bolder wine, too.