Food and Wine Pairing Basics
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It use to be so easy, red wine with red meat, white wine with fish, and white meat.
Of course, that isn’t how we eat is it?
Where is the fusion food and ethnic spices?
Then there was a school of thought, any wine with any food as long as one does not mask the other.
I am OK with that, but I think that most people that would even ponder the question of food and wine pairing would like it broken down a little bit more.
If I am wrong, you can stop reading right now and just go buy wine.
When the marriage of food and wine works well it can really be memorable; each enhancing the other, making the whole greater than the individual parts.
There are some pairing classics that have stood the test of time and the changes in food fashion such as English stilton and port, foie gras and sauternes, Alaskan salmon and Oregon pinot noir, oysters and Champagne and goat cheese with sauvignon blanc.
I think there is one major consideration when trying to pair food and wine. I think the texture, or the body of the wine, is key.
By “texture” I am referring to the way it feels in your mouth.
Is it drying? Does it make your mouth water from acidity? Is the wine sweet? Is it creamy and full?
This sensation comes from a combination of alcohol, acid, tannins, fruit, oak and age.
When considering the food to go with a wine, you want to look at the way a wine feels in your mouth and the way the food feels in your mouth, and then try to match them, or compliment them.
For example, a big ripe red wine from Australia or California is going to out-power any light dish such as sea bass.
Same goes for a light-bodied Sauvignon Blanc trying to compete with barbeque pork ribs.
So think about the weight of the wine. Is there a lot of fruit to the wine like an Australian Shiraz?
Is it a real dry wine and has forward drying tannins like a Cabernet or Barolo?
Once you identify this “weight” or body thing, then think along the same line when considering the food.
Proteins and fat compliment a wine with more fruit and alcohol than one without.
High-acid foods, such as a tangy tomato-based pasta sauce require a wine with complex acids, such as Chianti.
A good rule of thumb when considering body, texture or weight of a wine is to focus on the ethnic or traditional foods from a specific region.
Argentine Malbec pairs beautifully with a juicy steak, Spanish Albarino compliments shell fish and German Riesling compliments sausage, and so on.
You can also look at flavor profiles of wine and match that same flavor with food.
A great example is game birds, such as quail or pheasant, that have earthy flavors and pair beautifully with wines that have earthy or “gamy” qualities such as a classic Burgundian pinot noir or a cabernet franc.
These wines have qualities of spice notes, mushrooms, earth and cherry, all flavors that will enhance the gamy flavors in the food.
Sweetness is one of the most difficult flavors to compliment. Dishes that have a slight sweetness, such as glazed pork, will go well with off-dry wines such as pinot noir or chenin blanc or torrentes.
If you are trying to match a dessert like chocolate or creme brulee, look for wines that are actually sweeter than the dessert or they will seem thin.
Consider port with chocolate and Canadian Ice Wine with the creme brulee.
They are culinary sensations you are not soon to forget.
This is a very basic guide line to follow and is based on one component only.
There are many cookbooks out there that go deeper into the art pairing food and wine properly.
However, the best guideline of all is your own palette. Keep pulling corks and experimenting. You will discover some amazing things.
Try a dry Tokay Pinot Gris from Alsace with spicy Thai food; it is one of those slap on the forehead “I get it!” moments.
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