Old Vine Zinfandel and Mixed Berry Pie


Classic, sublime food and wine pairings such as Sauternes and foie gras or Cabernet Sauvignon with steak au poivre have inspired reams of poetic praise from gourmands and wine writers. Yet there are also highly personal wine and food partnerships – borne from  curiosity or necessity – that can offer their creator a dysfunctional and curious pleasure all their own.

On a recent glum afternoon, I discovered such a pairing. Seeking comfort from food, I wandered into the kitchen and spied two things on the counter that could elevate my mood. A bottle of locally crafted “old vine” Zinfandel, half consumed, stood directly beside a freshly baked mixed berry pie. Still slightly warm, the pie beckoned me with its perfume. The two items shared a common denominator – berry flavors – so I decided to give the pairing a whirl.

The Zin, roughly the same color as the interior of the pie, was everything it should be. Thrillingly lively and spicy, with the faintest whisper of vanilla, it was packed with sexy, bold berry flavors.  And the warm, flaky pie was fabulous, filled with blackberries, blueberries, cherries and raspberries – in fact, all the berries I had tasted in my first sips of the Zinfandel.

I curled in an armchair, wrapped in a blanket, and consumed the two. They did not complement each other – the wine’s berry flavors were complex, dry, sophisticated; the pie’s berries were exuberant, sweet and juicy. Separately, they made sense, together, they clashed. Yet on that gray, rainy day, as I savored their disharmonious partnership, I was completely content.

The pairing, perplexingly successful in that one moment of time, was just what I needed. And it made me wonder what other irrational food and wine combinations might apply to our ever-changing life situations. What pairing might fortify us after plowing through a mountain of bills, or watching our son drive off to college for the first time? What should we drink and eat to celebrate the planting of that enormous vegetable garden in the back yard, or a just-purchased ticket to Europe?

Share your wine and food pairing successes with us below. We’d love to know about them.