A bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken suits Natalie MacLean just fine, thank you. It creates a challenge to do what she does best — pairing wines with food.
This internationally renowned wine aficionado and expert admits without abashment that she can’t cook.
“But I’ve learned how to compensate for my lack of cooking skills by matching wines with every kind of meal, including fast food,” says MacLean.
She and her family indulge in all sorts of ready prepared foods from dining out, takeout, TV dinners and deli stuff to canned beans and “even our son’s mac and cheese, which by the way goes beautifully with a Chilean Chardonnay.”
MacLean calls this pairing of wines with fast foods “shabby chic or like putting rhinestones on your jeans.”
She stresses that the more important principle for her is that wine can go with all sorts of dishes.
“We don’t have the wine culture that Europe does where they match wine with simple dishes, rustic dishes and everyday food,” she points out. “We tend to think of wine as just for fancy meals and special occasions, but it is not.”
“The same food-and wine-matching principles that you use for those fancy dishes can be applied to very basic fast food. It’s about texture, weight and flavour. You are either complementing or contrasting.”
So what would she drink with KFC?
“This a rich fatty dish, so to cut through the fat of the fried chicken you could choose a zippy off-dry Riesling,” MacLean suggests. “Or a nice rich buttery Chardonnay from Chile or California because the fatness of the dish is going to marry with the fatness of the wine.”
When sending out for Chinese food with its sweet and sour nuances, choose a wine that can handle both, she says.
“My favourite is off-dry Riesling from either Canada or Germany because it has a touch of sweetness, but it also has the acidity to go with the sour element in Asian cuisine.”
And she adds that any wine that is bone dry is going to taste bitter with Chinese food.
With Indian food, it is very much the same principle, says MacLean because of the spiciness and “I would go with the low-alcohol white sparklers which have a little sweetness.”
For wine drinkers who prefer reds over white “make sure you are choosing one that is not high in alcohol or tannins when eating spicy foods,” she says.
“Go with fruity low-tannin reds like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais, Gamay or even Zinfandel.”
Finally, MacLean deals with one of the most commonly ordered-in fast food – pizza.
“Pizza is easy,” she says. “It is a classic match with Italian wines because two of the dominant elements are the cheese and tomato, so a lot of Italian reds have a good amount of mouth-watering acidity.”
“That acidity cuts through the cheese and also matches the acidity in the tomatoes, so varieties such as Barberas and Chianti are wicked with pizza.”
To assist wine drinkers, MacLean offers a free interactive matching tool on her website www.nataliemaclean.com/matcher.
“I believe that the old rules about white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat just don’t give enough guidance any more.”