Are you the type to match any dish with any wine or do you try to balance out the flavors of the food with the perfect wine? Properly pairing wine with your food can make any meal more delicious and more enjoyable.
Before you start pairing wine and food, it would be a good idea to understand how it works. Wine flavors are derived from five basic components: sugar, acid, fruit, tannin, and alcohol. Foods also have basic components such as fat, acid, salt, sugar, and bitterness. You want your food and wine pairings to have complementary components, richness, and textures.
Select a wine that will keep the flavors in balance.
Don’t try to match strong with delicate. Mild foods pair well with mild wines. Big, flavorful foods pair well with big, flavorful wines. You also want to match the richness of the food with the richness of the wine. Serve dry, light-bodied, low alcohol wines with light dishes. Serve full-bodied, ripe, high alcohol, creamy-textured wines with heavy dishes.
Let’s take a look at the various components of food and how they pair with wine.
Fatty foods need a wine high in acidity, tannins, or alcohol.
High acid wines complement fatty foods similarly to how a lemon complements a piece of salmon. An acidic wine will help balance the fat and add interesting flavors to the dish. Fish pairs well with a wine high in acidity because it scrapes out the fishy flavor left in your mouth.
Tannins will help cut the fat. If you are eating a fairly rich fatty dish, pair it with a red wine. Because of the tannins, red wine pairs excellently with a prime cut of steak. The beef’s protein and fat soften up the dry aspect of the wine. Be very weary of pairing a wine with lots of tannins with a piece of fish; the tannins and fat will cancel each other out leaving you with just a fishy flavor.
A wine high in alcohol will slow down the rate at which you eat a fatty food. It should not be used to cleanse your palate. Rich fish or chicken dishes with cream pair well with high alcohol wines such as Chardonnay.
Acid is an element found in both food and wine. If your food is high in acidity, pair it with a very acidic wine. If wine has less acidity than the food, the wine will taste bland and flat. Pairing wine with salads can be tricky, but if you cut back on the lemon juice or vinegar in the dressing, it may work. You want to try to moderate the acid so it doesn’t wash out the flavor of the wine.
Desserts and sugary foods can be paired with a sweet wine, but be aware of the degrees of sweetness. With desserts, the wine should taste sweeter than the dessert. Otherwise, the wine will lose much of its sweetness and end up tasting bitter. For foods with a hint of sugar, pair with a rich white wine. A wine with higher alcohol will give an impression of sweetness and balance the sugar.
Many people love to pair red wine with chocolate, but be careful. Sweet foods can make dry wines seem tart. Try dark chocolate and a red wine with a hint of sweetness.
Salty foods can be hard to pair. Salt can make wines taste weird and bitter and can take the fruit right out of a red wine. You want the salt to increase the fruity, sweet character of wine.
Salt clashes with tannins, but works well with acidity. Acidic wines can clean out the salty flavors of foods such as oysters. Sparkling wines tend to complement salty foods because they clean your palate and add texture and flavor. A sweet wine might also delight you when paired with something like nuts.
Most of the time, people want to avoid bitter flavors. When bitterness in wine meets bitterness in food, the bitterness combines. Since bitter food will increase the bitterness in wine, try to pair it with something less complex.
Food and wine pairing comes down to a science and illustrates the power of the basic characteristics of taste. You want to make sure that your food and wine complement each other well. So before you open up your next bottle of wine, ask yourself, “What am I having to eat?”