perfect pairings


Episode 01

Perhaps one of the most common wine “rule” is “always pair white wine with fish.” During a visit to the Italian seaside town of Livorno for my show on PBS, Avec Eric, I ate the area’s classic fisherman’s stew called “cacciuco,” which is a seafood stew made with a red wine sauce. While the white wine that I drank with the stew was nice, I started wondering about which red wines I might choose to drink with a fish dish that has a rich sauce. Back in New York, Aldo and I did some tasting with a halibut in morel sauce paired with two different pinot noir wines. The results are delicious and interesting and made me excited to do some more exploration in dispelling some of the “wine rules” that are so common.


Episode 02

Many specialty markets carry very nice selections of salume or charcuterie, they are a wonderful way to start a meal or to have as light meal along with some cheese, bread and crackers. I also like to serve them as an appetizer when entertaining. One wine myth is that young wines don’t have the character to go up against a mixture of strong flavors. On a cured meat platter there is usually a wide variety of flavors and also the meats tend to be very rich because of all of the fat that is in them. Some may have peppercorns or fennel and some may have very spicy elements. It can be a challenge to find a wine to go with everything that is presented. In this episode of Perfect Pairings, Aldo Sohm proves that, with the right choice of wines that are light, but with some acidity and delicate fruit, it is possible to pair something like charcuterie with great success.


Episode 03

Many people like to serve a collection of cheeses at parties or before or after a meal. The classic beverage to serve with cheese is definitely wine but because cheese comes in so many textures and flavors, and the same can be said for wine, it is not so easy to just pair any wine with every cheese. In this “webisode,” Aldo and I dispel the myth that “any wine goes with cheese” by exploring a cheese board that is made up of three totally different cheeses—a fresh chevre (goat cheese), an aged cheddar and a very ripe, blue cheese. If we would have paired the same wine with each of these cheeses, it would have been a terrible experience but Aldo explains the reasoning behind each pairing and it makes total sense. I learned a lot during this tasting and I hope you do some wine and cheese experimentation on your own.


Episode 04

Extremely acidic food such as ceviche or raw oysters with mignonette or lemon can be tricky to pair with wine. Sometimes the thought is to put an acidic wine right beside the strong flavor so that it can stand up to the force of the recipe. But in this experiment, Aldo and I find that there are other options. We know that fruit or floral notes can add balance to an acidic dish, but it will be interesting to see if a more delicate wine can be paired with so much tartness and not be destroyed. This time we find that food can help to elevate a wine just as much as wine can compliment food.


Episode 05

Salads can be composed with so many different elements. Usually we let the market and season dictate what goes into a salad, and generally salads have a base of lettuce or other greens like spinach or arugula. These greens can be a challenge to pair with wine on their own because of strong, chlorophyll elements that exist in the leaves. When you take that green base and then pile on all kinds of vegetables, fruit, nuts and vinegar dressing, it becomes even more difficult to find the right pairing. In this segment, Aldo and I compare two different white wines against a very complicated but tasty salad.


Episode 06

For some reason, maybe because it is often enjoyed as a first course or because we view it as something light, our inclination is to always pair white wine with pasta. Pasta itself—the actual flour, egg and water mixture—is what provides the “base” and as I learned when I made pasta in Italy, really good pasta should be the star and the sauce then compliments it. The base flavor is hearty and the starch provides a pleasant chewiness and mouth feel, and that alone seems like a good argument for red wine. For this experiment, Aldo challenges me to taste the same red wine with four different pasta sauces—same noodles, different sauces.


Episode 07

A general rule of thumb has always been to move toward a sweeter wine when serving spicy food. However, not all spice or heat in a recipe comes from the same source and of course what the spice is mixed with should be considered.

A little sweetness does coat the mouth and throat a bit and allows the spice to be tamed but in this segment I threw a challenge at Aldo by creating a spicy dish with scallops. Scallops have a sweetness of their own and are quite a rich ingredient so it is interesting to see what he thinks is the perfect pairing for the spicy scallop recipe.


Episode 08

Because black pepper has its own tannins, it is sometimes considered a “wine killer.”  Many times, when the tannins of the pepper hit the tannins in wine, the entire flavor becomes what we call “short in the mouth.” This means that flavors come to a halt and the taste becomes very astringent. The feeling is almost like being thirsty. Black pepper can often do this when paired with wine because it immediately brings the alcohol in the wine to the front instead of highlighting the subtle, soft flavors. The steak au poivre recipe in this segment was a particular challenge because not only is the meat rubbed with lots of black pepper, we also poured a black pepper sauce over the steak. Aldo found a Bordeaux to pair with the recipe which is interesting because this particular Bordeaux is Cabernet based which has lots of tannins. Watch this webisode of Perfect Pairings to understand why this works so well.


Episode 09

We are lucky to have so many different kinds of drinking water available to us but are they really that different in taste? And if they are, how do they affect the way we taste other things? Because our restaurant is very focused on extreme quality, it is important to think about the smallest detail including water service and how it will affect the dining experience. Aldo and I decided it would be fun to put water to the test and taste five different waters against each other and then taste each one with a glass of wine. The results were actually quite dramatic and I hope you will watch this Perfect Pairings segment and perhaps stage your own water tasting at home.


Episode 10

This installation of Perfect Pairings was born out of my love of wine from the Bordeaux region of France. Both white and red wines from Bordeaux are delicious, well-respected wines that utilize time-honored traditions of growing, blending and aging. If I had to pick one wine to drink for the rest of my life, it would be red Bordeaux. I grew up near the region and developed my palate on Bordeaux. Aldo Sohm, the wine director at Le Bernardin knows this about me so we decided to put the Bordeaux up against four completely different foods—raw oysters, Camembert cheese, lobster salad and pecan pie. Watch as we test my theory that “Bordeaux Goes with Everything” with these diverse flavors.


Episode 11

Asparagus is a special vegetable that has a very distinct taste. The flavor is complex and while it has a very green, fresh taste, it also has a certain bitterness and high mineral profile. The flavor can also change after cooking and become a deeper kind of green taste. Asparagus is one of the most difficult vegetables to pair with wine because of its complexity. In this segment, Aldo Sohm and I take on asparagus and the additional challenge of dressing the asparagus with vinaigrette. Aldo walks us through some of his thoughts behind trying the dish first with a Pinot Bianco from Italy and then with a Grüner Veltliner from Austria.


Episode 12

Perhaps the most common “wine myth” or “rule” is to always pair red meat with red wine. While that is often a nice thing to do, it is not always the rule. The point of these Perfect Pairing videos is to explore what is possible and the process of finding interesting and successful pairings. With red meats in particular, Aldo and I find that, depending on the meat and the recipe, there are some really nice qualities that white wine possesses that can work very well with red meat. Keep in mind that in addition to beef, red meat also includes duck and squab and of course the sauces that go with those meats need to be taken into consideration too. In this segment we find that some white wine characteristics, like fresh acidity with some fruit and also some mineral notes provide a lift and contrast to a heavy, red meat recipe.


Episode 13

Chocolate flavor can mean many different things. It can be bitter, rich, earthy, acidic and fruity—all qualities that provide various wine pairing challenges. When I was in culinary school, I was always told to drink water with chocolate but there are some very interesting wines that help enhance the chocolate flavor. It is important to taste the chocolate alone first because some chocolates can be complex and bitter and if the wine is not sweet enough, the chocolate will taste sour. If the wine is too bold in its fruit, the experience can overwhelm the palate. In this episode, we explore two different red wines with three totally different chocolate desserts to find a perfect pairing.