Food & Wine,Wine

Is wine best paired with food, or is it meant to be enjoyed alone (i.e., without food)?

I think of wine as a liquid food, and I prefer a wine with a lower alcohol level, because the foods I choose to eat are more delicate in nature. For instance, I’d rather have pork tenderloin in a plum reduction sauce. A delicate 13 to 13.5 percent Pinot Noir would pair really well with that. If I’m enjoying BBQed ribs, though, I can easily manage a 14.5 percent Petite Sirah fruit bomb… Balancing myself with some acid management behind the scenes (which means it’s not so easy).

But, are winemakers responsible for keeping their wines in lower alcohol balance to be wonderfully paired with food? If so, that would mean that all consumers must become well informed and figure out what we enjoy drinking with what food, based on knowing ahead of time every winemakers’ consistent style over the years on a daily basis?

Or, is there a balance to strike somewhere in this process?

I can’t help but wonder what goes through the mind of someone just emerging into the world of winemaking. Does he or she even think, “What direction is important for me?” I’m thinking that most of the emerging winemakers are coming into the business with idealism in their eyes. Then, as they become someone’s employee pressures are put onto them to deliver the goods solely for the purpose of making the wine high score-able and marketable, versus following their “Nectar of the Gods” dream.

So, I asked my winemaking pals, “When you make wine, are you thinking about making it ‘food friendly;’ or do you craft a wine to be in the best balance, not having the food and wine connection in the back of your mind at all?”

And, like a fine wine, it’s a pretty balanced answer in both directions…

Today, the food guys; tomorrow, the wine guys

Larry Schaffer ~ tercero wines (no caps, please, for these Zen wines… owner | winemaker)

Interesting question indeed, and my standard answer to anything ‘wine related’ is ‘it depends’ . . .

When I make white wines and my rosé, I am definitely thinking about having these wines with food and therefore need to ensure that I retain enough acidity to give them longevity and to pair well with food. When I make my ‘Outlier’, which is a dryish Gewurztraminer, I also plan out how much residual sugar I want to leave in the finished wine for I want this wine to stand up to spicy foods.

When it comes to reds, I try to err on the side of making my wines with lower pH’s and higher acids than the opposite. I personally am not a big fan of ‘flabby’ wines that are too ‘plush’ and therefore aim to make wines in a different style. I also feel that higher acids, along with good tannin structure, are the key to ensuring these wines will age gracefully.

That said, I am not thinking about specific food pairings when making my red wines.

 Mike Brown ~ Cantara Cellars (owner | winemaker)

I make 10+ wines each vintage. Some are definitely configured assuming food will be paired, others I don’t consider it. However, experience has shown whatever I think is of little consequence to the consumer! They will enjoy wine any way they please.

Another interesting observation, they don’t serve food pairings at any wine competitions!

Clark Smith ~ Diamond Ridge Vineyards (winemaker) and WineSmith (owner | winemaker)

I always have food parings in mind when I make wines and when I blend. I make a “classic,” balanced style, rather than cocktail wines. This is contrary to normal California winemaking practice. I don’t think my wines are easily understood or even enjoyable outside food pairings. For example, the 2008 Diamond Ridge Cab Franc is complex enough to be appreciated on its own, but its nuances are better appreciated around porcinis and grilled things. My WineSmith Faux Chablis is really good with ceviche or shellfish, and isn’t soft and fat enough to stand on its own as a quaff.

The Diamond Ridge Petite Sirah is an exception. While truly terrific with steaks and ribs, not to mention chocolate, this massive and elegant wine is quite satisfying on its own.

Jeff Stai ~ Twisted Oak Winery (owner | winemaker)

Well, shoot, I’ve met few drinkable wines that didn’t go with some food but they went with plenty of others…

In my brain, at least, a balanced wine by definition will go with food. And we do make wines with certain food groups in mind – mostly because that particular blend has become associated with that food over time and we try to stay true to that profile.

On the other hand, consider: “I plan to make the most perfectly balanced peanut butter, but it may not go very well with bread.” Sounds kind of silly doesn’t it?

Hendrik Smeding ~ Flying Horse Winery (owner | winemaker with Lettie Smeding)

When we make wine we strive for balance and elegance. We also look to make what we call privately ‘yummy’ wine which is that overall good mouthfeel. I know that with food pairing trends etc., it is almost blasphemous to say we do not care one bit about our wine pairing with food. If the wine is well balanced that will take care of itself.

I would think it would be easier to create food to match the wine than the other way around.

Jason Welch ~ Barra of Mendocino (winemaker)

When I’m making a wine, balance is what I strive for most. I think it’s the highest compliment a winemaker can receive. However, I do envision how the wine would be with a food pairing and do take that into consideration somewhat. But I would say that most people (in this country) still drink most of their wine by itself, so making a solid, balanced and varietally correct wine is my main goal.

George Guglielmo and Alan DeWitt~ Guglielmo Winery (GG: owner & master winemaker) (AD: winemaker)

We’re an 87 year old winery founded and operated by Italians. It is the very essence of our culture that wine and food share the same table. To that end our winemaking style reflects this value. We feel that balance is not mutually exclusive to this philosophy. It is what informs it.
















6 Responses to “Is wine best paired with food, or is it meant to be enjoyed alone (i.e., without food)?”

  1. Thanks Jo for posting this post. For the most part, making a “balanced” wine is the answer. So, for the most part it seems like wine makers do consider how their wines will pair with food, but they are most concerned about the quality of the wine. I am one that likes a wine to both be great on its own, and wonderful with a meal or appetizer. The mark of a good wine to me is just that, that it has enough fruit and other spice components and a nice finish. The wine has the abilility to sip on alone, and enough tannin or acidity depending on the varietal to pair well with food. But I like a wine to be able to do double duty, sip and pair. That is my wine philosophy. A lot of writers/bloggers only focus on wine, but food and wine is like a good marriage in my book!

  2. I can attest that Clark makes some killer food friendly wines. I recall drinking a Cab Franc that was simply marvelous on its own but when I paired it with a meal, the wine simply sang another octave.

    But on a side note, it does not surprise me to see balanced answers in both directions. The bottom line is to simply make the greatest wine you can make from the grapes you’ve been given, and if the food component fits into the equation, great. But in reality it ties into multiple considerations–grape variety, location (you can’t force the grapes to produce cool-climate attributes in a warm weather climate), consumer wants, winemaker (and owner) preferences and styles…and the list goes on and on.

    Lorrie, I have to respectfully disagree with your statement, “For the most part, making a “balanced” wine is the answer.” Balanced wines don’t necessarily make them food friendly. There are plenty of kick butt balanced examples that make terrible food wines – but as you point out, it is about the tannin and acidity as well as the sweetness and alcohol levels that makes one wine sing with certain foods over another.

  3. David Vergari says:


  4. Love these wine makers, their wines, and their answers, Jo. What a great post!

    Personally, I love how certain foods and wines bring out something special in each other that wasn’t there before.

  5. Jo Diaz says:

    Thanks for all of your comments, everyone.

  6. […] Is wine best paired with food, or is it meant to be enjoyed alone (i.e., without food)? […]

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