Mimi Thorisson's 5 Rules for Pairing Wine with Food

October 29, 2014

Today, Guest editor Mimi Thorisson is sharing her favorite ways to enjoy Bordeaux wines.

Acceptable wine pairings have come a long way since James Bond could (almost) spot a traitor by his ineptitude at the table. ("Red wine with fish. Well, that should have told me something.")

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It seems that these days, anything and everything goes: White wine with a juicy steak, Burgundy with dumplings -- the explosion of tasting menus has thoroughly opened the doors of wine experimentation. I must confess, however, that I am something of a classicist. It's good to have some guidelines -- you have to know the rules to break them. And as for having red wine with fish, I actually had some this week at a bistrot in Paris. It was turbot with a nice Gevrey-Chambertin. While the wine was perfectly lovely, I would have preferred a white Chassagne Montrachet any day -- but sometimes you just have to go with the flow of the table. Let's just say that I am glad Mr. Bond wasn't there to judge me.

It's all about personal preferences and palate -- here are my favorite ways to pair wine with (and without) food.

1. Pâte en croûte and a beautiful Burgundy like Vosne-Romanée may be the most perfect wine paring ever invented. Served with a warm, mustardy onion salad and crunchy pickles, they satisfy my palate like few other pairings. As a rule of thumb, it's hard to go wrong with food and wine that come from the same region -- after all, they grew up together, know each other well, and complement each other perfectly. 

2. Wine and cheese: Now, this is a category open for interpretation! I love to drink a big glass of dry white with my cheeses, but then again, an elegant red can be just as good. Jura wine with Comté cheese and walnuts (another local pairing) is a classic, but a particular favorite of mine is a nice slice of gorgonzola with a sip of Passito di Pantelleria. The actress Carole Bouquet produces a really good one.

More: Comté cheese plays a leading role in Mimi's rich Butternut Squash Gratin. 

3. Living in Bordeaux, I am a big fan of Sauternes wines. They are perfect as an apéritif, and spectacular with Roquefort and desserts that are not too sweet (sweet upon sweet is not a brilliant mix). My all time favorite way to enjoy a well-chilled Sauternes is with a bitter, deep chocolatey dessert such as a delicious chocolate ice cream like the one I recently had at a friend's house. (I would say château, but that sounds too pretentious!)

4. I am a big fan of Basque cooking: black pig fed on acorns, for example, spiced up with some piment d'espelette and lots of garlic. A dish like that calls for a big wine: earthy, musky, yet smooth and velvety. On such an occasion you can't go wrong with a great Médoc wine, and Château Ducru-Beaucaillou from St. Julien, 2000 or 2003 for example, will do the job elegantly. 

5. Being a "food person," it may sound strange to admit that one of my favorite ways to have a really great Bordeaux wine is to pair it with...nothing!

I like to offer guests Champagne and gougères when they arrive (Michel Drappier is a favorite Champagne) but then, before dinner, if the menu allows, it can be a good idea to bring out the red and enjoy the beauty and complexity of a favorite wine, simply on its own. You'll need a beautiful, big, crystal glass to fully appreciate the color and the aromas; each sip is a journey through a vineyard on a golden early autumn day when the grapes are ripe and bursting with promise. Wines close to my heart are Château Lynch-Bages from Pauillac -- the 1996 is pure heaven -- and the robust, Cabernet-heavy Château Calon Ségur. Having the opportunity to taste a 1982 Calon Segur was an experience my palate is still nostalgic about.

Wine photos by Oddur Thorisson; ice cream and cheese board photo by James Ransom

Every day this week, we're giving away a copy of A Kitchen in France and a bundle of Mimi's favorite Staub cookware! Head here to win a copy.

Update: LakelureladyonetinysparkpaddyboyTerryKes, and rhubarb! rhubarb! rhubarb! are our winners! Enjoy your copies of A Kitchen in France and Staub cookware.

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Mimi Thorisson is the author of Manger, a blog devoted to French cooking, and the host of La Table de Mimi on Canal+ in France. After a career in television and having lived in Hong-Kong, Singapore, London, Reykjavik, and Paris, she settled with her photographer husband, five young children, two older stepchildren, and the family's fourteen dogs in a rural farmhouse in Médoc.


Jeana B. November 1, 2014
I'm liking and sharing this article ! So informative ! The link to win isn't working so I'll like and share. Maybe that will work ??!?
nycnomad October 31, 2014
#5 The best pairing ever!
Phillie F. October 30, 2014
Thank you! This was an absolutely informative article. I am going to refer to this article this upcoming weekend. I especially loved the chocolate recipe and wine pairing.