Tips for Matching Wine With Food
Good news! You don’t have to learn complicated systems for selecting the right bottle of wine to enhance what you're eating. A few simple guidelines will help you make successful wine-and-food pairings!
Drink and eat what you like
Choose a wine that you would want to drink by itself, rather than hoping a food match will improve a wine made in a style you don’t like. That way, even if the pairing isn’t perfect, you will still enjoy what you’re drinking.
Look for balance
Consider the weight—or body, or richness—of both the food and the wine. The wine and the dish should be equal partners, with neither overwhelming the other.
As a rule of thumb, hearty food needs a hearty wine. A bold complex wine such as Gratavinum 2 PiR, made from a blend of Grenache, Carignan, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah complements grilled lamb chops because they’re equally vigorous; the dish would overpower a crisp white wine. In contrast, a light Soave washes down a subtly flavoured poached fish because they are equals in delicacy. Equally at home with rich meats and strong sauces is Verum Bodegas, Ulterior Graciano, an intense, sweet wine with smooth tannins, good persistence and a touch of bitterness.
How do you determine weight? For the food, fat—including what comes from the cooking method and the sauce—is the main contributor.
For a wine, you can get clues from the colour, grape variety and alcohol level, along with the winemaking techniques and the region’s climate. Lower alcohol wines tend to lighter bodied, whereas wines with more than 13 percent are heavier.
Match the wine to the most prominent element in the dish
Identify the dominant character in the dish; often it's the sauce, seasonings or cooking method, rather than the main ingredient. Consider two different chicken dishes: Chicken Marsala, with its browned surface and a sauce of dark wine and mushrooms, versus a chicken breast poached in a creamy lemon sauce. The caramelized, earthy flavours of the former tilt it toward a soft, supple red, such as Map Maker’s Pinot Noir, while the simplicity and citrus flavours of the latter call for a fresh white, such as Staete Landt’s Josephine Chardonnay or Scarbolo’s Ribolla Gialla.
GETTING MORE ADVANCED
Red wines are distinct from whites in two main ways: tannins and flavours. Tannins are compounds that provide structure and texture to a wine; causing the astringent sensation you feel on the sides of your cheeks. Many red wines have tannins; few white wines do, unless they have spent extensive time in oak barrels. A wine like Dominio Romano Tinto which is made from 100% Tempranillo, pairs well with a wide range of dishes with medium to strong flavours thanks to its high-acidity and soft tannins.
Ideally, a wine’s components are in balance, but you can affect that balance, for better or worse, with the food pairing. Elements in a dish can accentuate or diminish the acidity and sweetness of a wine, and the bitterness of its tannins.
High levels of acidic ingredients, such as lemon or vinegar, for example, benefit high-acid wines by making them feel softer and rounder in comparison. On the other hand, tart food can turn balanced wines flabby.
Sweetness on the plate can make a dry wine taste sour, but pairs well with a bit of sweetness in the wine; as long as a wine balances its sugar with enough natural acidity (such as Villa Wolf’s Riesling and demi-sec Champagnes), it can work very well with many dishes.
Tannins interact with fats, salt and spicy flavours. Rich, fatty dishes such as steak diminish the perception of tannins, making a robust wine such as a Cabernet seem smoother, as do lightly salty foods like Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. However, very salty foods increase the perception of tannins and can make a red wine seem harsh and astringent; salt likewise accentuates the heat of a high-alcohol wine. Very spicy flavours also tend to react badly with tannins and high alcohol, making the wines feel hotter; such dishes fare better with fruity or lightly sweet wines. Off-dry whites and rosé wines such as Maison Mei, De Terra Aix Coteaux en Provence can work well with spicy food and Asian dishes.
Look for flavour links
The aromatics of wine often remind us of foods such as fruits, herbs, spices and butter. You can create a good match by including ingredients in a dish that echo—and therefore emphasize—the aromas and flavours in a wine.
On the other hand, similar flavours can have a “cancellation effect”—balancing each other out so that other aspects of a wine come out more strongly.
To make your own classic matches, start off on the traditional paths and then deviate a little. Don’t get stuck on Cabernet with red meats—look up and down the list and try Zinfandel or Châteauneuf-du-Pape. Instead of Burgundy or Pinot Noir with sautéed mushrooms, try a Barbera, red Bordeaux or Cabernet Franc, such as Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur-Champigny Clos de l'Echelier. That’s the way to put a little variety into your wine life without straying too far from the original purpose.
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