The worst wine and food combo I’ve ever tasted was a soft, gooey-textured Krispy Kreme doughnut coated in a sugary glaze with a decadent, opulent 1975 Château d’Yquem. They were both delicious on their own; the problem was that the doughnut was way sweeter than the wine. The Bordeaux’s fabled lusciousness came across as battery acid.
I tried it because I was at a dinner honouring a noted wine collector, and it was his personal favourite pairing. You know what else it was? Proof that even serious wine lovers make serious errors when matching food with wine.
Curious about the mistakes we all make, I quizzed a half-dozen sommeliers, who spend their time trying to suggest the best pairings to their customers, about the most common goofs. Even though all of them had strong opinions about the subject, they were anxious not to criticize their customers’ choices.
After all, one told me, it’s hard to describe any food and wine pairings as purely disastrous. We each bring our own taste buds to the table, and the biochemical processes that combine to create the thought, “Hey, this wine goes great with pepperoni pizza,” are highly individual. Still, there are some general principles.
Here are the three mistakes they say many people make.
Insisting on only white wine with fish
Aldo Sohm, the chief sommelier at three-star Michelin restaurant Le Bernardin, dreams up unusual food and wine pairings while jogging. Imagining what will go with what is always on his mind, which is a thing you’d expect from someone once named "Best Sommelier in the World."
Fish reigns at the restaurant, and Sohm said some customers still think they have to order white with every fish dish. “You don’t,” he said. “You can often do a red. It all depends on the sauce. Look at the menu first and read the description.” (Or, I might add, ask the sommelier for advice.)
Champagne is not just best served with dessert PICTURE: Sugar and Soul
Serving champagne with wedding cake—or any kind of sweet dessert
June is the big wedding month, and at many nuptial dinners, brut Champagne will be sipped with sweet, frosted cake as guests toast the bride and groom. That match is going to be a bad marriage, sighed master sommelier Evan Goldstein, who has written two books on food and wine pairing and is president of Full Circle Wine Solutions. “The tartness of the wine will clash with the sweetness of the cake,” he said. The wine will taste even more acidic, like lemon juice. The solution? Serve a light sweet Italian moscato or prosecco with the cake. Serve Champagne as an aperitif.
Choosing rosé as a compromise wine
Master sommelier Ronan Sayburn has worked as executive head somm for the Gordon Ramsay Group and luxury hotel chains, and now oversees wine at exclusive London wine club 67 Pall Mall. “Working as a sommelier, you often see some bad choices, like martinis or cosmopolitans drunk with an entire meal,” he complained. (I imagine his shudder.) But his “personal bugbear” is that many diners opt for rosé when one person has ordered fish and the other a steak.
“They think it will match both,” he said, “but it won’t go with either one.” Instead, consult the by-the-glass list so you each can order something appropriate.