The art of pairing beverages with a meal is a time-honored tradition. The correct complement can mean bringing a dining experience to new heights, and a less perfect choice can leave customers wanting. Wine has, and continues to remain a top pairing choice at fine restaurants, but beer is quickly gaining ground. As advancements are made in the kitchen and chefs continue to challenge palates with inspiring dishes with unique ingredients, sommeliers redefine pairing notions and work to find just the right drink. Beverage Executive spoke with two sommeliers on opposite U.S. coasts—Jesse Rodriguez, the director of wine at the Addison Restaurant and The Grand Del Mar in San Diego, Calif., and Gianni Cavicchi, beer sommelier of New York’s Tour de France Restaurant Group—to discuss the essential components of developing beverage pairing menus. They’ve offered seven basic drink/food pairing hints to drive on-premise sales.
1. ESCHEW CONVENTION
Forget the red wine with beef, white wine with chicken and fish, says Rodriguez. Consider the protein first and then examine how it is prepared. Flavor profiles change depending on grilling, baking and boiling methods. Then examine any sauces that will accompany the dish. Know if it is more acid based or fat based. “Knowing more about the dish helps with thinking outside the box on food pairings,” he says.
2. PRACTICE, PRACTICE
Be confident, but practice in advance, Cavicchi says. “You know within the first five seconds if you would do it again.”
3. KNOW THE DINERS
Learn your customer, says Rodriguez. Ascertain what they enjoy and prefer and then tailor the drinks to that. Even if their palate does not agree with accepted or proven pairings, giving them a pinot noir when they only want chardonnay can ruin their entire experience. “Don’t turn their hard earned money on a great meal into a nightmare,” he says.
4. KEEP IT CLOSE TO HOME
Think local when possible. Cavicchi looks to breweries in the same area as the food in the kitchen when considering pairings. This creates a new layer to the dining experience by highlighting the best of a particular region.
Never get pigeonholed with just one wine. Having knowledge of several different vintages that work in a similar fashion not only showcases a deep knowledge, but allows a sommelier to act quickly in the fast-paced restaurant universe, says Rodriguez.
6. FLAVOR FIRST
Remember flavors and study new ones because when they appear in a chef’s new dish, you will already have a good idea where to start with pairing, says Cavicchi.
7. FORGET THE RULE BOOK
“The beauty of beverage and food is that there are no hardcore rules,” Rodriguez says. “It is a thinking job, always being creative, pushing yourself to think outside the box. It is what separates a good sommelier from an average one and separates a high-end restaurant from one at the local Marriott.