Beyond “Food Friendly”: Pairing Suggestions That Actually Help Sell Your Wine

Guest Post by Deirdre Bourdet, CEO of Hedonism Ink

People have been consuming wine and food together for thousands of years, because wine generally makes your food taste better — and food generally makes your wine taste better. Smart tasting rooms offer guests a bit of charcuterie, nuts, or other wine-loving snacks to sample with their wines, knowing that these few bites will make the wines — and really, the whole tasting experience — immensely more enjoyable. A thoughtful food match can transform a mousy wallflower of a wine into a celebrity rockstar … that surprise new favorite that people feel compelled to share with all their friends and followers.

If we know people like to drink wine with food, and we know wines taste better with food, then why do so many wine producers give the issue of food pairings short shrift in their marketing strategy? Few wine descriptions, tasting notes or sell sheets include any information at all about successful food pairings. Some offer up the revelation that a wine is “food friendly” (a term most consumers read as a warning not to consume on its own), or advise that it “pairs well with pasta or grilled meats.” These kinds of vague, obvious suggestions are absolutely useless — as well as a lost opportunity to educate your consumer on the many excellent ways they can enjoy your wine.

Let’s review the basic facts of food and wine pairing: a successful match depends almost entirely on how you season the main ingredient of your dish, rather than the type of protein or dish. Many seafood dishes are transcendent with red wines, and many meat dishes (particularly southeast Asian dishes) are far superior paired with white wines. Many salads are delectable with red wines, and pasta can pair with any wine on earth, depending on what comes with it.

Unless your pairing suggestions offer advice on the flavors and preparations that complement your wine, you’re not giving your customer any useful information to guide them on how and when they should consume your wine. In my opinion, this is a total marketing fail — especially for classically styled or funky wines that don’t show particularly well without food.

So, what to do? Obviously it’s impossible to describe every single dish and preparation method that would flatter your wine — there are just too many options. But even on a back label or a shelf talker, you have enough room to point out a few specific seasonings or flavors (e.g., fresh goat cheese, basil, tandoori spice, mushrooms) that would complement your wine. Rather than just matching the aromas already in the wine, try to focus here on flavors that will harmonize and build on them. Mirroring a wine’s aromatic characteristics in a pairing often cancels them out entirely — a smoky wine paired with a smoky meat typically makes both taste less smoky, for example. A better pairing utilizes the wine’s distinctive flavors as additional ingredients for the dish, layering on complexity in the total (wine + food) mouthful. Identifying some of these key complementary flavors helps consumers identify easy ways they might be able to work your wine into dinner tonight.

In marketing collateral with more space to dive into details (tasting notes, online product descriptions, etc.), you can go a step further and suggest some actual dishes to try. Remember to describe them in a way that makes their flavor profiles clear … think “sole with browned butter,” “spicy Thai coconut curries,” “steak au poivre”. Pick a variety of dishes that shows off the versatility of the wine — perhaps “fresh tomato and Brie sandwiches, grilled salmon with thyme and fennel, or roasted duck with five spice” — and consider including a simple recipe for one of these suggested pairings to take the guesswork out of it. Even if your customer never makes the dish, a well-written recipe provides useful guidance about successful pairing options and cooking techniques, as well as an evocative image of deliciousness.

Everyone loves to eat, and most people are far more familiar with food imagery than they are with wine descriptions. An alluring food idea can make your wine less intimidating, and easier to picture fitting into their holiday meals, weekend dinner parties, and Taco Tuesdays. And if you make it easier for people to enjoy your wine, they’ll not only drink more of it — they’ll also appreciate your help. In my experience, good food pairing suggestions are one of the key value-adds that keep people in wine clubs. (Wine club parties with excellent food pairings are another.)

In sum: thoughtful pairing suggestions are an easy way to provide your consumers with fun educational information, and provide your wines with the culinary context that make them taste their best. And because so few wineries focus on this marketing opportunity, even a little extra effort in this area sets your winery apart, lifting it head and shoulders above the “food friendly” competition.

Deirdre Bourdet is the Principal and Chief Eating Officer of Hedonism Ink, a wine and food writing service based in Napa Valley. As a Cordon Bleu-trained chef, recipe developer and wine industry copywriter, she’s always devising delicious new ways to enjoy wine. If you’d like help creating food pairing notes or recipes, please feel free to reach out by email: hedonism.ink@gmail.com.

© Hedonism Ink, 2015. All rights reserved.

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