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Wine Pairing Simplified

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Danny Meyer shares his strategy: Go for the smile.

Wine Pairing Simplified

© John Kernick

“With a show of hands, who thinks the Riesling was the best overall for pairing with food?” Danny Meyer asked the audience at Sauce on the Side: Wine, Wieners & the Works. During his seminar at last year’s F&W Classic in Aspen, attendees tasted a range of wines with a hot dog and several toppings to find the ideal matches. My hand shot up, and I was sure that nearly every other hand in the room would shoot up, too. Was I wrong: The Riesling got about as many votes as the Syrah and Pinot Noir. Even the Sauvignon Blanc received hefty crowd support, and I thought it’d been god-awful with just about everything. And that was exactly Meyer’s point.

Meyer is the restaurateur behind some of New York City’s most acclaimed restaurants (Gramercy Tavern, Union Square Cafe, Maialino, North End Grill and more) and the international Shake Shack empire. For the past 10 years, he has led Aspen tastings based on the idea that figuring out the best wine pairing is as easy—and as deeply personal—as deciding whether you prefer ketchup or mustard on a hot dog. He’s come up with a brilliantly simple system that he calls “Yuck, Eh, Yummy” to illustrate this. Whether the tasting involves hot dogs, tacos or burgers, the basic idea stays the same: Try a food and all of its fixings with a range of wines, then rate each pairing on a chart by drawing a smiley face, a neutral face or a frowny face. No florid tasting notes allowed.

Looking at my completed chart’s silly cluster of pleased, indifferent and offended expressions, I realized I had something more valuable than a one-size-fits-all dictum: I had a map of my own tastes. I learned that I can rely on Riesling when I’m looking for a wine to pair with a variety of flavors. Someone else at that same tasting walked away knowing that Sauvignon Blanc is the way to go. There’s no right or wrong about it.

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