With wine country's rolling hills ablaze in the signature yellow mustard blossoms we've come to look forward to every winter, I couldn't help but pen a piece on enjoying the famed condiment with wine. Trouble is, mustard and wine are the gastronomical equivalent of Paris and Nicole - sworn enemies.
Most of the time, that is.
Consult any reputable resource on wine and food pairing and you'll in all likelihood find mustard couched somewhere between vinegar and chili spice in the reference's list of the all-time trickiest foods to pair with wine. The reason is that, mustard, with its vinegary sourness and, occasionally, piquant sweetness, is fundamentally at odds with most wines' plush fruitiness and dry (read: not sweet!) character.
Fortunately, just as the notoriously fickle The Simple Life stars occasionally patch things up and put on a good friendship face for the cameras, so too can wine and mustard - in the right circumstances - carry off the appearance of a healthy partnership. Read on for the low-down on how to pair these fickle friends.
If you'd like to enjoy your wine, opt for a mellow mustard. Extremely hot, vinegary or sweet mustards are just too much for most wines to handle. Dijon-style mustards are a good bet, as are some of the mildly sweet versions. Mega hot numbers like some spicy Asian mustards, on the other hand, are death sentences for wine.
Any mustard will bowl over all but the sturdiest wines. In the white category, reach for a full-bodied, somewhat racy white like Sonoma Chardonnay or a crisply acidic German Riesling, ideally of the Kabinett level. The latter's touch of sweetness will complement any sweetness in the mustard while its acidic kick meets the vinegar head-on.
Red wines should have a healthy dose of tannin and, ideally, herbal and/or earthy flavors. This rules out many California reds such as Merlot, whose red fruit- and oak-driven flavors are at odds with mustard. Instead, reach for a red from southern France's Rhône Valley, where Grenache and Syrah-based blends include distinctive herbal and earthy qualities. By the same logic, some Central California Rhône-style blends like those from the Paso Robles area boast similar flavor profiles, and make great substitutes.
Fortunately, we can generally count on consuming mustard - which is, after all, a condiment - as part of a larger dish. Depending on the relative strength of whatever else is on your plate, this can be a great help in mitigating the difficulty mustard poses for wine. Roast lamb and pork, for example, which show up frequently alongside mustard in popular cuisine, offer up via their high fat content a foil to mustard's power. Cold meats, on the other hand, do little to help wine out; your best bets here are high-acid white wines, which pack the biggest defensive punch against mustard in their acidity.
Oh, and you'll want to skip the mustard entirely if you're having a mature wine, especially an older red. The reason is that, over time, the tannins in red wine soften and the wine's aromas and flavors develop into a wonderfully nuanced collection of subtle notes. Because mustard needs tannin in red wine, it'll make your softened-up red taste thin and flabby while the condiment's high-pitched vinegary quality will interfere with your ability to take in all the lovely aromas and flavors found in older wines.
The moral to this tale of sometime enemies
Clearly, a lot more goes into making this friendship work than just putting on a happy face. But, as you've now seen, on very special occasions, when extreme precautions have been taken, mustard and wine WILL place nice.
Just don't ask them to star in a reality TV series together any time soon.