In Search of Pairings that Sing

Once again, I let my love of wine run away from me, and once again my daily consumption got beyond the bounds of the healthy toward chronic hangovers and weight gain. So I’ve had to put wine back in its place: back at the dinner table, and back in modest quantities. This means, however, that I want every glass to sing with the food, and that wine pairing is something I’d like to understand better. The basics are clear to me, of course, but I’m coming to realize that there’s a big difference between pairings that don’t suck and pairings that sing. The Don’t Suck pairings merely work fine together, so there’s no clash; the Sing pairings create this dynamite synergy between the two taste experiences, the way a dab of aioli can electrify your bouillabaisse. One plus one equals three.

But man, it’s hard to pull off. How many times have you asked a waiter or sommelier to recommend a wine to pair with a particular dish and received only a passable match? How often has the match been thrilling?

Anyway, to grow my repertoire in this regard, and come to understand it better, I’ve begun cooking from a great book that’s been around for a while: Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier’s Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food, by Evan Goldstein, with recipes from his mother, the first-rate chef Joyce Goldstein.

Foray number one, for me, was a dazzling success. The recipe was a pairing “for opulent, fruit-forward chardonnays (new world style),” and the dish was roast lobster with tarragon-lemon butter. I didn’t have lobster, but I adapted the dish for halibut, essentially pan-frying the fish in a mixture of canola oil and tarragon-lemon butter. Then I slathered the halibut with more of the butter before serving. It was absolute magic. I mean that. The single most effective pairing I’ve ever had, and perhaps the only time I’ve found a wine of that style to marry exquisitely with food.

The wine, incidentally, was from Frank Family Vineyards.