by Guest Contributor Fernando Vigón

It would be hardly an exaggeration to say that it is sheer madness to try to set rules for food and wine pairing. But after an excellent dinner and the stillness of this Saturday night, let me have a go at it.

Unlike pairing wine and friends- the one I enjoy the most and perform the best- food and wine pairing is a highly subjective, controversial, time consuming and inexact process. But on the other hand, it is an exciting, fascinating, challenging task and like wines, is lively, unpredictable and rewarding.

Even though there’s considerable room for manoeuvre and expression of your own personality, let me state my set of rules when choosing wines to match a dinner:

By way of introduction “wine shouldn’t overpower food and neither should the other way around”. Decide which one is top and then act accordingly. Sophisticated wines, such as Calvario, Finca Allende, D.O. Rioja, goes hand in hand with unsophisticated but powerful dishes such as cocido madrileño or the outstanding pote aranes.

Conventional wisdom says that regional proximity and geographic location is a pass word for matching. Regional foods and wines, having developed together over time, should offer natural affinity for each other. e.g. fabada and sidra. Huge mistake, pair fabada ALWAYS with Grenache –not necessarily Priorat-. For instance, Baltasar Gracian Cepas Viejas, D.O. Calatayud, or Alto Moncayo, D.O. Campo de Borja, are terrific choices. What is more and still in Asturias, taste Cabrales cheese with a port, perhaps the luxurious Burmester Vintage 1997 or the humble Royal Oporto 1999 –only 30 €- a simple but delicious pairing. The English knew what they were doing.

It is beyond all doubt that “Red Wine with Red Meat, White Wine with White Meat” is a better rule that the old one about “red whine & meat” and “white one & fish”. A Chardonnay aged in oak for three-six months, let’s say a Milmanda, Torres, works hand in hand with braised quail or duck preserve. So does a Alfonso Cortina Viognier with a spicy steak tartare; along the same line if you can afford it, you can make do with Enate Uno Chardonnay, D.O. Somontano, a bargain at 300 €.

And yet objections still stand to white wines and very tasty objections by the way: try a Pinot Noir Alta Padina, D.O.Vinos de Castilla y León, or Raymat, D.O.Costers Del Segre, with salmon or fresh tuna, you won’t regret it.

Matching Asian food and wine is a really demanding task. Just look at sushi, above all taking into account that not all varieties-contrary to the prevailing opinion- are alike. On average I am all for a sparkling wine, in the case of Spain a Cava, e. g. Recaredo Bruts de Bruts, complex, dry, fresh. If you have a soft spot for white wine, just choose a Verdejo with a crisp edge of acidity and a bit fruity: Naia Verdejo 2006, D.O. Rueda, or perhaps even better, the Guitian Godello sobre lias, D.O. Valdeorras. Red wines prove to be tricky. A fruity, elegant, complex, medium -bodied merlot is worth tasting, either Enate Merlot-Merlot or Raimat might do it well, but…..

What about wine-and-cheese tasting? Well more of the same. There is a wide spread belief all over Spain in favour of marrying red wine and cheese. Unfortunately, nothing could be less true than that. Generally speaking, when it comes to cheese, white wines are more complex, elegant, and ready to play second fiddle to cheese. I’d propose the following suggestions for seeking the ideal marriage between wine and a particular cheese:

It goes without saying that blue cheeses, Cabrales, Gamonedo as I said before match perfectly with Port but they also do with sauternes like white wines such as the Casta Diva Reserva Real, 100% Moscatel, and surprisingly so with very dry (Fino, Manzanilla) Sherries. I am not too wild about tannic reds like Cabernets, powerful Riojas or Riberas which sometimes get a metallic or rusty taste with blue cheese.

Ripe, creamy cheeses like Mahon or Formatge de la Selva fit well again with a rich, buttery Chardonnay, but this time try Viñas del Vero Chardonnay 2006 D.O. Somontano, even I can afford it at 7€! . With Tosta del Casar try something really special Humboldt Viña Norte D.O. Tocoronte-Alentejo; yes a red again (listan negro) but sweet, fruity, a killer.

As for hard cheeses like cured Manchego, Roncal, Los Pedroches, Grazalema? Here, I am very pleased to accept a Rioja Crianza as the best marriage. Why don’t you try Luis Cañas, Marques de Vargas or my favourite Sierra Cantabria? A kind of a cliche, but it is worth it!

With goat’s milk cheese, Sierra de Ibores, Tietar, the amazing Majorero from Fuerteventura the best choice is Sauvignon Blanc from Rueda: Palacio de Bornos Sauvignon Blanc Vendimia Seleccionada 2004 won’t let you down.

The Bottom Line: when it comes to matching food and wine the possibilities are, of course, endless but the good news is that there are not right or wrong answers. Drink what you like, but I would strongly advise you to try my rules first. Afterwards, remember rules were made to be broken and wines to be enjoyed in endless new ways!