When chefs develop standout recipes for special wine dinner menus, a blend of artistic and even scientific factors come into play.
Flavor, balance, temperature and intensity of ingredients are some of the things taken into account in addition to the desires of the diner when pairing wine and food.
"A lot of it is preference and what (the diner) likes," said Mark Angeles, executive chef of Horseshoe Casino in Hammond. "There are really so many different things you can do."
Angeles lends his diverse culinary experience to blending the flavors of food and drink on the casino's regular restaurant menus as well as for the menus of the Perfect Pairings events, held monthly on select Thursdays in the casino's LakeView Room.
"A lot also depends on the seasons," Angeles said.
To pair wines with the casual style of grilled foods, which often tend to be lighter, the chef said wines with brighter and fruitier flavors are best.
And "to help cut through fatty items," he suggests choosing crisp-flavored wines, such as Santa Margherita's Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc.
The chef said he'll come up with pairings for special menus months in advance or even a few weeks in advance if called upon to do so.
If diners are enjoying a multi-course dinner, Angeles said he'd begin with serving a Sauvignon Blanc with a light appetizer such as seafood, then progress to a Chardonnay with a salad. For a steak or other grilled meat, he'd choose a Cabernet Sauvignon or a Malbec and then go lighter with a Reisling for dessert.
For Tammy Pham, executive chef/owner of Asparagus restaurant in Merrillville, pairing wine with her menu of Vietnamese/French and Thai-inspired foods is an interesting feat. Pham's husband Sam, who is the eatery's spirits expert, is always tasting and presenting new and vibrant beverages, she said.
At Asparagus, special wine nights have been held occasionally for the last year.
"I don't always just pair the wines with meat, seafood or other entrees, I pair them with sauces, too," Pham said. Sauces are a focal point for her Asian-inspired menu and something she enjoys creating.
The chef, who's a fan of white wine, said her husband prefers various red wines.
"I like to experiment with the dishes and the wines," Pham said, adding she'll try matching a red wine with a red curry dish but then also match it to a white wine such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc to taste test a different profile.
Patrick Higgins, executive chef of Blue Chip Casino in Michigan City, enjoys experimenting when it comes to pairing.
"Anytime you pair wine with food, they should always complement one another and should never overpower each other," Higgins said.
For a fish dish, Higgins suggests going with a Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
But wine isn't all there is. These days, the art of matching or contrasting the flavors of multi-dimensional craft beer with various foods is trendy and all the norm.
"We absolutely enjoy the pairing process," said Kevin Clark, brewmaster for Bulldog Brewing Co. in Whiting. Clark said he's working closely with the brewery's new chef Jillian Flathers as they collaborate on an updated brew pub menu.
"Jillian and I are looking at different beers and different styles of beer. You can do a lot of different things in the kitchen when you're pairing craft beers with recipes," Clark said.
Clark said spicier recipes as well as house-made pretzel bites served with a German-style spicy mustard do well matched with an IPA brew, which is a hoppier style.
"The Roby Red is a red rye ale and has a nice malty body with a little bit of spice," Clark explained. He said it holds up nicely to spicy dishes such as Buffalo chicken wings and Habanero shrimp.
According to Higgins, whose dining options offer both beer and wine-friendly foods, craft beers with a bit of lemon or orange zest flavoring, which are citrusy, work well with fish or various seafood while "heavy meat dishes" can handle a little Stout or Porter.
Among recipes Higgins crafted to pair with assorted brews were crispy pork bell sopes "Al Pastor" with quajillo chile cumin, pineapple mango or onion, cilantro-lime garnished jicama slaw, paired with Shoreline Brewery's Sum Nug IPA and seared/grilled duck breast matched to a Beltaine Scottish Ale. Also in the spotlight were brisket chili from Blue Chip's The Game paired with Greenbush' Anger- 7.6 percent Black IPA and a Chocolate Raspberry Espresso Cake to pair with Figure 8's Black Corridor Chocolate Imperial Stout. In addition, he created mac and cheese made with gorgonzola and Threadsplitter matched to Hunters Brewery's Threadsplitter IPA.
The food and drink experts said sometimes beer is overlooked when diners wish to pair a meal with a drink.
"But beer is something that matches with food even more than wine in some cases," said Angeles. He said there's a resurgence in beer now with people becoming interested in various types and they're also willing to experiment more with matching brews to various culinary flavors.
Horseshoe's bar Sixth Street offers a variety of brews and the fine dining Jack Binion's Steak House also offers a vast selection of libations.
Angeles said when planning beer dinners, sometimes it's good to change "the tempo of the beer" when introducing new courses.
"You might want to start with something softer and stay away from the bigger flavors," he said. Later on in the dinner, with richer foods showcased, heartier brews would work best. He said he'd suggest going with a wheat-flavored beer with seafood and for lamb, he'd opt for an IPA or Stout. Dessert would match well with a creme Stout or oatmeal Stout.
For more information on beer and food pairing, visit brewersassociation.org or craftbeer.com.