You know your interest in wine has entered the next level when you start to wonder what wine goes with the food you are eating… what’s the perfect food & wine match? For those of you that have recently experienced a growing interest towards food & wine matching, I have put together this beginner’s guide, covering the basic principles of pairing wine with food.
“Delicate to delicate, bold to bold”
It only makes sense that a delicate wine like a red Burgundy will end up tasting like water if you serve it with a dramatically bold dish like curry.
You always need to try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. This means that rich and heavyweight foods, like a beef casserole, need rich and full-bodied wines, like a powerful Barolo.
Lightweight food, like poultry/fish and vegetables, are complemented by more delicate wines. White wine is normally the instinctive choice; however, light and low-tannin reds, like Momo Pinot Noir (Marlborough – New Zealand, £16.99), also work very well.
“It’s about the way you cook it”
Flavour intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same thing.
For instance, boiled potatoes (without any dressing/sauce) are heavy in weight but light in flavour. As opposed to green bell peppers which are lightweight, but very flavoursome.
The same goes for wines. We have grape varieties, like Riesling or Pinot Grigio, that make lightweight and intensely flavoured wines; while, there are other varieties, like Chardonnay or Viognier, that make heavy but more lightly flavoured wines.
Quite often it is not the main ingredient in a dish that provides the dominant flavour, but the way it is cooked. For instance, there is a big difference between chicken in a creamy mushroom sauce and a Thai chicken curry. For the perfect food & wine match you would need to pair the creaminess of the mushroom sauce with a smooth dry white, like a Chenin Blanc or a Chardonnay, while the Thai curry would be perfectly balanced by an aromatic and off-dry white wine, like Rolly Gassmann Pinot Gris (Alsace – France, £20.49).
In addition, instead of “mirroring” flavours like in the examples above, you could also decide to set up a contrast. For instance, a lobster in cream sauce can be deliciously matched to a structured Chardonnay, but it would also be fascinating in contrast with a Traditional Method sparkling wine, like La Piotta “Talento” Brut (Oltrepo Pavese – Italy, £18.99), which is crisp, sharp and refreshing.
“The secret to a flexible wine”
Certain grape varieties, especially when grown in cool climate regions, will naturally produce high-acid wines. A classic example would be a Gruner Veltliner from Austria, or a Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand.
Food and wine can both have acidity. High acid wines work very well with fatty/oily foods, since they cut through the greasiness, cleansing the palate and balancing the dish. Also, when an acidic ingredient (vinegar, lemon juice, etc.) is used as a condiment, you will need to find a fresh wine to complement it.
Acidity is very important in red wines too. For instance in Italy, where many dishes and sauces are made with important quantities of olive oil, there is a good number of red wines made from indigenous grape varieties with noticeable acidity, like Angoris Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso (Friuli Venezia Giulia – Italy, £13.99), able to complement the regional dishes perfectly and create the perfect food & wine match!
Acidity is also very important because it is crucial in improving food matching flexibility to a wine. In fact, wines with good acidity (both whites and reds) leave you wanting to take a bite of food, and after taking a bite of food, you will want a sip of wine… job done!
“To mirror or to contrast, that is the question”
Whilst saltiness in food clashes with tannins, it is a great contrast to acidity in wine. Think about smoked salmon and Champagne, or Parmigiano Reggiano and Chianti. Asian dishes that use soy sauce (high in salt) as a condiment or ingredient, often pair well with high-acid wines like Riesling or Pinot Gris.
Salty foods are also enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness. Try the Asian dish seasoned with soy sauce with an off-dry American Riesling like Charles Smith “Kung Fu Girl” Riesling (Washington State – USA, £15.99), and watch both the food and the wine pull together in a new way. This is the principle behind the old (and great!) custom of serving Stilton cheese (something salty) with Port (something sweet), or Sauternes with Roquefort to create a truly perfect food & wine match!
“High-fat food and high-powered wines”
Usually, the more textured and fatty the food, the more tannins you need in the wine.
Tannins come from the grape skins and stalks, and they are mainly extracted during red winemaking process.
Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins, and they cause your palate to dry when you drink wine.
Talking about the perfect food & wine match for fatty dishes, lamb is usually a good example of a food with a high-fatty protein content which, when eaten, coats the mouth with fat. If you then drink a tannic red wine, like Piattelli Premium Reserve Malbec (Salta – Argentina, £16.29), the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules and strip them from your mouth, leaving it feeling refreshed and cleansed and ready for the next mouthful.
“Beware of sweet on sweet”
With desserts, consider sweetness carefully. Desserts that are sweeter than the wine they accompany make the wine taste over-acidic and tart. In effect, the sweetness of the dessert can knock out the character of the wine.
When it comes to dessert, the perfect food & wine match is usually based on pairing a “not-too-sweet” dessert, such as a fruit tart, with a sweet – but fresh – slightly aromatic wine, like Lovells Late Harvest Siegerrebe (England – Worcestershire, £12.99).
“What grows together, goes together”
The way foods and wines express the soil, climate and topography of a region is called “terroir”. Therefore, you may take into account also the matter of culinary tradition while designing your pairings. Certain wines are paired with certain dishes because they come from the same region, and therefore have traditionally always been served together.
Classic examples are goats cheese and Sancerre, or beef bourguignon and red Burgundy. For the same reasons, it is also traditional to match maritime wines, like Laurence de Veyrac Picpoul de Pinet (France – Languedoc, £9.99), to shellfish and other light fish dishes. Regional pairings sometimes might not be a “theoretically” perfect food & wine match… but who are we to question traditions? 😉
For everyone getting more and more serious about perfect food & wine match, I recommend to visit Fiona Becket’s Website: https://www.matchingfoodandwine.com/.
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