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Good Wine, Good Food, Bad Combo

Get your tannins off my pineapple

Oh, there's food here too?
Oh, there's food here too?

by Mike Supple
published: 08 Jul 2009
      | Comments

People talk about wine and food pairing all the time, and opinions will often differ quite drastically about exactly what wines work best with specific foods. And that's all well and good, but people rarely discuss what went wrong when the food and wine clash.

This past weekend I grilled some thick teriyaki turkey burgers layered with slow-grilled (hence caramelized) pineapple, extra sharp cheddar cheese, avocado and mayo. At this point, you're either thinking "delicious" or "disgusting," but either way it will work to make the point.

I chose two wines that I wanted to drink and paid no attention to how they would go with the food. The evening began with non-vintage Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne, which was followed by the 2006 Conn Valley Right Bank (a blend of 70% Merlot and 30% Cabernet Franc). These two wines are about as different in style as you can get.

NV Louis Roederer Brut Premier Champagne
What Worked: Pineapple is a very acidic fruit and can quickly become a dominant factor in the food. Champagne also has very high natural acidity, and the two acids played well together. The sweet flavors in the pineapple and the teriyaki sauce also worked well with the citrus and pineapple flavors in the Champagne. The fat from the cheese and avocado was well balanced by the acid and the bubbles in the wine.
What Failed: While the Louis Roederer Brut Premier is a fairly full-bodied Champagne, it is no match for the intense flavors of the caramelized pineapple and tangy teriyaki sauce. The flavors of the food quickly overpowered the Champagne, making it hard to taste or enjoy.

2006 Conn Valley Right Bank
What Worked: The high percentage of Merlot in this wine made it surprisingly approachable at this young age. While full-bodied, the wine was balanced and smooth in the mouth, which worked with the ground turkey in the burger.
What Failed: Just about everything else. The sugar in the burger worked against the wine, giving it a lingering bitter flavor. This is a delicious wine, but heavy, young and bold red wines do not work well when drunk with tropical fruit like pineapple. The tannins, though soft, felt jarring against the sweet sauce and fruit. The relatively mild flavor of the ground turkey was no match for the bold intensity of the dark cherry flavors in the wine. In a nutshell, the flavors of the wine overpowered the flavors in the burger.

Moral of the story? If you're not enjoying the wine with your food, don't force it. Eat your food, let it settle, then kick back and drink your wine. Sometimes separating the wine from the food is necessary to improve the evening.



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