The 3 Principles of Wine Pairing M. Cole Chilton

A photograph of a bottle of an Israeli sauvign...
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Wine pairing brings forth three impossible principles. As soon as you engage in the very act of wine pairing, your mind, heart, and palate are forced to recognize three ideals which are much, much stronger than your own personal likes or dislikes. Wine pairing makes you yearn for openness, perfection, and asymmetry all at once.

1. In that wine pairing makes you yearn for openness, you could say that the first principle for wine pairing is “There is no such thing as the wrong wine.” Every pairing is inherently worth trying. I may say that red wine does not pair with fish, but that doesn’t mean that I’m not going to try a Cabernet Franc with a plate of grilled tuna because sometimes what you least expect to enjoy works the best.

2. In that wine pairing makes you yearn for perfection even though you know, just as a modern-day alchemist would, there is no formula for gold. You must accept that the second principle of wine pairing is that “There is no such thing as the right wine.” Of course that doesn’t mean that you stop searching for the perfect wine pairing, you just realize that the satisfaction is in the search, not in the completion of the search. The tasty upside of this is that you can take this search for an unobtainable perfection as an edict to “always have another glass.” I would have never discovered that Cabernet Sauvignon is not the only great wine pairing for steak!

3. In that wine pairing is not and should not be obvious, you must try to  create asymmetry. The third principle of wine pairing is that “You must try every wine.” As soon as you get beyond Cabernet, Chardonnay, and Sauvignon Blanc, wine gets beautifully messy, and the greatest joy of wine pairing becomes trying what seems wrong just in case it is secretly exactly right. Taking up the call to asymmetry is how we find out that wines that smell more like old books on a tattered velvet chair marked “not for sale” at our favorite thrift store are better pairings with asparagus than just a grapefruit-driven Sauvignon Blanc.

Happy pairing. Much more to come from these thoughts. M. Cole Chilton


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