Wine and Food Pairing - Woodmans of Essex

John Maher:  Hi. I’m John Maher. I’m here today with Chef Ned Grieg, executive chef at Woodman’s and the Essex Room in Essex, Massachusetts. Today, we’re talking about wine and food pairing. Welcome, Ned.

Ned Grieg: Good afternoon.

Beer or wine to pair with food?

John:  Ned, is beer or wine a better drink to pair with food, do you think?

Ned:  Personally, I prefer wine. It seems to be more versatile. Though, they’re coming up with some very unique microbrewed beers. It seems as if the younger crowd, people have a tendency to like beer and harder alcohol to pair with food as opposed to wine when you have a more mature pallet.

John:  That’s people start to maybe delve into the more gourmet types of food. They tend to start drinking wine with that and wanting to select the proper wine to go with their meal.

Ned:  Yes. As I was trained as a chef, I was always taught that usually white wines will go with lighter color meats, proteins, fin fish and shellfish. If you use red wines, that will go with your lamb, your beef, your ostrich and things of that nature.

Does food pairing take a lot of experience?

John:  Does pairing take a lot of experience, or is it fairly easy to get a basic understanding of? You said, just at its most basic level, you can do white wine with fish and chicken and things like that and red wines with darker meats. That’s certainly a simple thing to keep in mind. Does it get more complicated than that?

Ned:  As being a professional chef, yes, it does. I spend a lot of time trying to find the most appropriate wine. Pacific Rim wines, Pinot Grigios, light Rieslings, and things that come from California and Australia seem to work really well with light foods with lots of flavor, with low fat contents. Red wines are really good with your more traditional old world foods like cassolette, pot a feu, paellas and some things that have more intense flavors.

Though, again in the summertime, I think one of my most favorite things to drink is this lightly chilled bottle of red burgundy wine. You can really go either way on that.

If you are a chef at home, taking care of your family and friends and throwing a small party, it’s whatever you like. It really is. There’s no real wrong way to make a choice. They’re going to drink your wine on you no matter what.

John:  [laughs] Any wine is better than no wine.

Ned:  That is true. The next free one is the one I want.

How does food pairing work?

John:  [laughs] How does food pairing work? What’s involved in that? What makes one food or drink pair well with another?

Ned:  If you were starting off, saying you’re doing a cocktail hour with 100 of your guests over your house and you’ve decided to do this by yourself without a caterer, but you did hire a bartender, you would probably want to make sure that you have a lighter white wine like a Pinot Grigio. You also want to make sure that you have a lighter style red wine out there, and a sundry of beers and lighter drinks. That’s because most hors d’oeuvres served at a cocktail hour are small bites that have massive flavor. Usually, people, when they’re socializing, they’d like to be able to cradle a glass of wine or a cocktail while they’re eating these smaller bites.

When you do a sit down dinner, you could be able to be a bit more specific because if you’re putting fillet mignon on the plate and you’re serving it with a wild mushroom ragout, you probably want to get a Zinfandel or a really nice Cabernet Sauvignon from California or if you have the money, you can buy some Chateau O’Brien or something crazy.

Favorite Food Pairings

John:  Do you have any specific food pairings that you’d really consider to be your favorites?

Ned:  That’s good question. Whenever we have dinner at home or my mother and father‑in‑law come over, we get wine every time with dinner. We say grace, and then we have wine. Before doing salmon on the grill, we always seem to have a Chardonnay. If we’re having lamb, we usually drink Zinfandel. If we’re having tenderloin or steak, we’re usually doing the Cabernet or something of that nature.

Yes, there are specific wines that seem to work best with certain things. At least, I would recommend them if I was running a restaurant as well.

John:  Any other basic pairings or tips for someone looking to do some food pairing on their own?

Ned:  Yes. You don’t forget about doing thing with dessert, with chocolates. Red wine, the Cabernet, is really, really good with it. Now that they’re doing all these unique things with chocolate, they’ll put a little bit of jalapeno pepper or fleur de sel in your crème brûlée or crème caramels. You can pair different types of wines there as well. The French have this one that’s called Sauternes. It’s like Chateau d’Yquems. They’re quite sweet. Those go really well with cheese as in fresh fruits and things of that nature.

Food Pairings That Don’t Work

John:  Are there any food pairings that you’d recommend staying away from? Things that really don’t work.

Ned:  You really don’t want to drink whiskey with shellfish. You can actually get quite sick on that. Don’t ask me why. It’s something about bourbon and rye whiskey and eating raw oysters or raw clams, you will get an upset stomach.

John:  Just does something strange.

Ned:  They just don’t work together. You stick to the champagne. It’s better. That’s the only one that I know of for sure, that will make a difference. If you’re going through a series of culinary offerings to the evening, you probably want to start off with something a little bit lighter, not the most overbearing wine and/or beer that’s out there. Start off light and build up to a stronger taste as you reach the climax at the end of your meal.

John:  That’s great advice. For more information, you can visit Woodman’s at or the Essex Room at Chef Ned Grieg, thanks very much for speaking with me today.

Ned:  Hey, thanks, John. It’s great to be here.

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