One of my favorite guidelines for wine and food pairing is the notion that you can mirror tastes or contrast them. I’m devoting this article to the all-important food and wine pairing question: Should you mirror or contrast? A big thank you to Vinfolio and SFGN for their help with this article.
To Mirror or Contrast
When picking the wines to serve with specific dishes, decide whether you want to mirror a given flavor or set up a contrast. Chardonnay with lobster in cream sauce would be an example of mirroring, since the lobster and the Chardonnay are both opulent, rich and creamy. Delicious matches can also happen by contrasting. This is where you serve your lobster in cream sauce with a sleek, crisp, tingly Champagne.
Vinfolio’s Take on Mirroring vs. Contrasting
Vinfolio points out that, “Some hosts love to make wine pairings that complement the food, while others love to contrast wine with the food, and few, if any, mix the two tasting styles together…In my experience, the type of wine tasting you prefer depends on your personality. Most of my over-achieving, perfectionist friends love a good complement wine pairing, while my creative-minded friends lean toward contrasting wine pairings.”
Is that true? Do you have a preference for mirroring or contrasting? Are you a perfectionist or a creative type? Please let me know. I would love to see if the Vinfolio predictions hold up.
A mirrored wine pairing involves picking out the predominant flavor qualities of a wine and identifying foods mimic these flavors. Mirroring is easier than contrasting. The only problem with mirroring is that it can seriously bore your palate.
For example, a jammy, berry-flavored zinfandel works extraordinarily well with a rich meat and berry sauce because the flavor of the wine is mirrored in the sauce flavor. Likewise, a Chardonnay and a lobster bisque are both rich and creamy.
A mirrored tasting can sometimes feel like walking into an all-beige house. Contrasts do a much better job of stimulating and piquing your palate’s interest. Think of a house that has contrasting walls. Challenging, interesting and exciting. Don’t you think? So, what would be a good contrasting tasting? How about an off-dry Riesling with Jamaican jerk chicken? Or a sweet Sauternes with a salty cheese? Or a creamy sauce with a wine that has a bit of zest to it like a glass of bubbly? The distinct flavors would result in an interesting, complex contrast.
A Tip for Contrasting
Vinfolio says that you “need to find the missing piece to the flavor puzzle. I find that it’s easier to think of a food, then work backwards to the perfect contrast wine, than it is to start with a wine and find the right food. Take spicy carne asada tacos for example; they already have a bold, savory flavor, and if you serve them with guacamole, they’ll have plenty of oily richness. What’s missing? A light crispness! Just as you would sprinkle lime juice on top of these tacos to cut through the spice and intense flavors, you can choose a light, citrusy, mineral-heavy wine as a foil to those flavors as well.”
If you’re somebody who mirrors tastes, I hope I’ve inspired you to contrast. If you’re somebody who contrasts tastes, I hope I’ve inspired you to mirror. I’d love to hear about your experiences with both approaches, and I’d especially like for you to tell me if you do one more than the other and if you’re a perfectionist or a creative type.