Drink Magazine

On Cocktails Vs Wine in Food Pairings

By Dinocelotti @TheDabbler

This is a topic I will be exploring and discussing more often as I feel it’s very much overlooked and unrepresented. There seems to be a common misconception (in my opinion) that cocktails are for before or after dinner and that dinner is best served with wine. Although is traditionally somewhat accurate, I don’t think this needs to be perpetuated any more than it has. Don’t get me wrong, I love a good glass of wine, but my point is that the right cocktail can be equally well suited to a given dish as the right glass of wine. Of course there are cases where the wine may be the better choice, but the same applies to the cocktail.

There are however significant differences in the process and complexity of pairing with cocktails as opposed to foods. The benefits of wine are obvious, it is significantly easier to not screw up a wine pairing. From one glass of red wine to another, the average person will tell little difference as far as its effect on the food. I will likely get a lot of flack for saying that, but I feel my proof is twofold. The first is that probably 90% of people order the wine before they even know what they are going to eat and the second is inherent in the way wine professionals or educators speak about pairings;

“Match the weight/richness of the food with the body of the wine” or “Match sweet foods with sweet wines” and “avoid combining oily or very salty foods with high-tannin wines”. 

I will concede that when a sommelier find me the perfect wine pairing for my food, everything does taste better and the entire dish is pure heaven. Wine can absolutely enhance food and it can absolutely ruin too. But when we take the above standard suggestions into consideration, it’s really difficult make a complete blunder with your pairing, especially if you have some basic wine experience (aka, you know that a Cabernet will likely have higher tannins than a pinot noir) then you’re away to the races.

Essentially what I am trying to say is that I feel wine is a safer choice and an easier choice because the variation in flavor profiles is significantly smaller than what can be achieved in cocktails. This brings me to the benefits and disadvantages of cocktail pairings. The benefit is simple, the available array of  flavours is so significant. Where wines are like the artist who is forced to paint in monochrome, cocktails are the artist who has an infinite selection of colours on his palette.

The disadvantage of cocktails is that because the flavours are so specific and pronounced, it is significantly easier to screw up a pairing by selecting the wrong cocktail, the wrong profile of ingredients, or the wrong balance of ingredients. The cocktail is a pairing in itself, where each ingredient needs to blend in harmony with the others in the glass. That blend then must work to accentuate the flavours in the dish. The other disadvantage, because of the previous problem, is that people are less inclined to select a cocktail with their food, because it’s far more conceivable to share a bottle of wine between two people over a three course meal than it is to have one cocktail per course. (Because the cocktail if paired with one course, will likely not pair well with the next course, and you will likely be consuming significantly more alcohol in this case).

So, what’s my point. My point is that next time you go out for dinner at a restaurant with a respectable cocktail culture, ask them what cocktail will go well with the seared scallop and bacon appetizer or the ribeye steak in mushroom sauce. If they can’t answer, shame on them for perpetuating a self-injurious status quo. If they do it well, you will not only experience your dish in a completely different way, but hopefully it will also open your eyes to a whole new world of dining possibilities. maybe you’ll even help start a trend!

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