WINE & FOOD PAIRING 101
Whether you're a serious wine enthusiast or simply someone who enjoys a glass or two without really knowing what they are drinking, we're all well aware that wine and food pairing is an important thing. Most of us know the basic principles of red wine with red meat and white wine with fish, but do we really know the reason behind why they pair so well?
Not to mention, why is it that even though we all know there is such a thing as wine and food pairing, we still open up or order just the one bottle of wine for a three-course meal? I mean it is unlikely to say the very least that we're going to be eating red meat as a starter, main and dessert so why would we order a bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon to compliment all three courses?
WHAT IS WINE & FOOD PAIRING?
Wine pairing is literally the process of matching a food dish with a wine to enhance our experience of their flavors. In the past, this would have been as the region’s wine and the region’s culinary traditions evolved together. However, nowadays wine pairing is a rather large industry in itself, even a profession for the Sommelier.
WHAT ARE THE BASIC PRINCIPLES?
Did you know that taste and flavor are actually two different things? Taste comes directly from our taste buds, while we all have varying sensitivity to the taste characteristics of bitter, sweet, salty and sour, these tastes are unarguably there. Flavors, on the other hand, are directly related to our sense of smell and therefore are something more personal and less defined. For this reason, experts recommend pairing based on the more objective taste.
In wine, there are three main tastes:
• Sweet (residual sugar)
• Sour (acidity)
• Bitter (tannin)
Another important factor when pairing wine is its alcohol content. A wines alcohol content is what allows us to define it as ¨being heavy¨ or ¨having body¨. Typically the higher the alcohol content the more weight the wine has.
So how do we use this information to help us pair wine with food?
Well according to Wine Folly there are 6 basics to food and wine pairing:
1. Acidity in wine pairs well with fatty and sweet foods.
2. Fatty foods need either an acidic or high alcohol wine, otherwise, the wine will taste flabby.
3. Bitter (aka Tannic) wine can be balanced with a sweet food.
4. Salty shouldn’t compete with acidity in a wine. Use sparingly as necessary to keep sharpness in the meal.
5. Sweet food/wine benefits from a little acidity.
6. Alcohol can be used to cut through fatty foods or balance a sweet dish.
And this seems to be the general consensus amongst experts. These, however, are the very basics that you need to remember. Wine and food pairing now has been taken to new and exciting heights, with Sommeliers even pairing wine with fast food. A step too far maybe for you?
PRO TIPS ON TASTING PROGRESSION
Work your way through the wines, starting with sparkling wine and progressing to the more robust red wine varietals. Finish your tasting with a sweet dessert wine.
There is no defined order to taste your cheeses; however, progress in order of strength, starting with the mildest flavors and working your way up to the bold and intense cheeses. Here is a quick tip to get you started:
5 FINAL GOOD TO KNOWS
- Have you ever heard the old saying ‘what grows together goes together’? Well, there is a good reason behind that saying. So try pairing wines with foods from the same place, think paella with Rioja or a tomato-based pasta dish with a Chianti.
- Like spice? The higher the alcohol content the more intense the heat. So if you enjoy hot food, go for a heavy wine with that curry. If not, try something lighter so as not to add fuel to the fire. A popular wine with a spicy dish is a nice Sauvignon Blanc, an acidic wine which will lift the spices in the flavor.
- With anything salty try a dry sparkling wine such as a Champagne or Cava.
- Fancy something sweet? Then your wine must have either a matching sweetness, if not, be sweeter. This is as high sugar content impairs the taste buds making the wine taste acidic and bitter. By (at least) matching the sugar content the flavor will complement one another rather than go against one another.
- There are two kinds of wine pairings: Pairings that complement and pairings that contrast. The two are pretty much as they sound. With a complement pairing, the food and the wine are very similar in flavor profile, but with a contrast, the food and the wine are polar opposites. It seems that whether or not your wine should complement or contrast is purely down to personal preference. Why not give both methods a go?
Needless to say, wine food pairing is an art, an experiment, whatever you want it to be. So get out there and try the world of wines. Pair, match and love your wine without worrying about wasting a single drop.
Good luck, enjoy it and be sure to let us know all about your favorite food wine pairings!