Wine Rules, and When to Break Them

When it comes to the familiar rules for wine (red for beef, white for fish), I asked Nicolas Quinones, co-owner and wine program director at Woodfire Grill, if that was good advice or an outdated notion that needs to be trampled (yes, that pun’s intended).

“I will say that wine can make a food taste bad. So If I’m having ceviche with some spice to it, to drink cabernet sauvignon with ceviche that is an abhorrent decision to make. If you want to enjoy the ceviche, the last thing you want to drink with it is cabernet sauvignon. Likewise if you were having a big piece of braised beef with a big, thick, velvety gravy and you drink some muscadet from the Loire with it, you may as well drink water.”

Quinones smiles and puts those examples in very simple terms: “If you’re trying to enjoy the two together, if you have any intention of the food and wine being compatible, you can’t do it, it would be like putting 20 inch rims on a go-kart, they just don’t go together.”

Returning to the question, he adds, “I don’t believe in rules, and I often try to pair wine with dishes that are outside the box, but there are things that just don’t work, and I have to acknowledge that.”

Working closely with Chef Tyler Williams, Quinones creates pairings for the menu at Woodfire Grill, and he sums his thought process for wine selection like this: “I wouldn’t pour a vanilla sauce over peppered beef, and I consider a lot of times a wine to be another ingredient in a dish.” Williams creates dishes, and Quinones approaches the pairing with the understanding that “this is a dish that’s complete, and I have to add an ingredient to it, and I’m going to pick the right ingredient. I’m going to pick something that’s compatible with the dish.”

Does that mean you have to drink red wine with beef? “No,” he says, “it means that if you can’t approach the beef with some dainty little grape juice because the beef is just going to clobber it.”

Check out the wine tastings going on this summer at Woodfire Grill.