Ever mistakenly worn two shoes from two different pairs? Failed miserably setting up two friends on a date? Pairing things up doesn’t come naturally to all of us. That’s why restaurants have wine directors and sommeliers—to help you figure out what goes with what.
But according to Victoria James, wine director at Piora (number seven for wine pairings) and the youngest sommelier at a Michelin–starred restaurant in America, wine pairing is not as exact a science as we imagine it to be. It’s actually “pretty flexible.”
“You spend a lot of time tasting each dish and figuring out how to pair it best, but at the end of the day you have to be adaptable…” she explained. “I might think milk goes really well with cookies, but you might prefer juice.”
Even though James tastes hundreds of wines a day, travels 3 to 4 times a month, and regularly talks with winemakers, sommeliers, and wine directors to stay on top of her wine game, she admits that wine pairing is “pretty instinctual.”
Christine Wright, general manager and wine director at Hearth (number 5), weighs in: “I think there’s generally two schools of pairings: like with like—for example, a dish with tomatoes, kind of light and acid-driven, and a wine with the same taste profile—but then there’s another way of approaching it, pairing opposites—like spicy Chinese food with sweet Riesling—which also works really well.”
Wright aims to have wine pairings come about “organically.” But she’s willing to push the envelope when given the chance: “It’s definitely a conversation we have when the guest sits down, if I can spice it up a little bit or if we want to go even further outside the box. If they’re up for it, I will take them all over the map.”
“Everyone has different palates,” Wright pointed out. Instead of stressing about the possibility of wine regret, chat with the wine director about what you like, hear what’s new and exciting, and push your boundaries every now and then. Trust their instincts, but trust yours, too.