Wine pairing is the art and science of matching wines with food to enhance both flavors. The right pairing can elevate a meal, bringing out the best in the food and the wine. But how do you know which wine to pair with which food? Armed with some background knowledge, experimenting – trial and error – is the best way to learn how to pair wine with your favorite food.
Basics of Wine Tasting
Before pairing wine with food, let’s look at the steps to taste wine properly.
View wine: Observe the wine’s color and clarity by holding it to the light. A wine’s color provides insight into its age, grape variety, and flavor profile.
Swirl: Swirling the wine in the glass will release its aromas and help you better understand its flavor profile. It should also slightly coat the glass.
Smell: Take a deep sniff identifying the layers of aromas, including fruits, flowers, spices, grass, herbs, and oak.
Taste the wine: Take a sip and let it linger – saturating your tastebuds. Try to identify the wine’s flavors and texture. Is it dry or sweet? Light or full-bodied? Does it have any tannins?
Food and Wine Pairings
Wine pairing is a complex and nuanced art. When done correctly, wine pairing can elevate a meal to new heights, bringing out the best in the dish and the wine. When pairing wine with food, there are several factors to consider. In no particular order, here are the most important ones.
Flavor intensity: Matching the power of the wine and the food is crucial. A heavy, flavorful dish can overwhelm a light-bodied wine, while a full-bodied grape overpowers a delicate dish. Pair a spicy dish with a sweeter wine to balance the heat. Similarly, a rich, full-bodied wine may pair well with a heavy, meaty dish.
Wine acidity: Acidity is an essential factor in wine pairing. Wines with high acidity cut through fatty foods, fitting nicely with grilled meats, creamy pasta, or fatty fish. A low-acid wine, on the other hand, complements more delicate foods, such as salads or seafood.
Tannins: Tannins, responsible for the wine’s dryness, are a vital component of red wine. Tannins in grape skins give the wine its structure and mouthfeel, creating a drying sensation. These yellow-brown compounds can also be found in white and rose wines.
Wine sweetness: Sweetness in wine is a perfect pair for spicy or salty foods. Sweet wines can balance the heat or saltiness of a dish. They also pair well with desserts.
Body: A wine’s body refers to its weight, complexity, and texture. Generally, full-bodied even out hearty, meaty dishes, while light-bodied wines pair well with lighter fare.
With a firm understanding of wine pairing basics, let’s look at some general pairings.
Chardonnay: A popular full-bodied white, oaked or unoaked, that lends flavor and balance to roasted chicken, grilled fish, and creamy pasta dishes.
Pinot Noir: Pinot Noir is a light-bodied red wine that pairs well with salmon, roasted pork, and mushroom dishes.
Cabernet Sauvignon: Made from black grapes, this traditional full-bodied wine leans toward the dry side –filling the mouth. Another bolder wine, Petit Syrah, is also served with fatty foods and heavier dishes with robust flavors. Think steak, lamb, and more pungent cheeses for your menu.
Merlot: The medium-bodied red wine made from the Merlot grape is a good choice for tomato-based pasta dishes, roasted or grilled vegetables, and grilled chicken.
Riesling: The sweet white wine, Riesling, pairs well with spicy Asian cuisine, barbecue, and salty cheeses. Another sweeter wine, Gewurztraminer, may pair well with spicy Thai or Indian cuisine.
Everyday Wine and Food Pairings
Sometimes, finding the perfect wine and food combination proves challenging, especially with daily food. Start with general suggestions – branching out depending on your taste and budget.
Roasted chicken: Chardonnay is a full-bodied white wine that pairs well with roasted chicken.
The wine’s rich texture complements the flavors of the chicken, while its acidity helps to cut through the fat.
Grilled salmon: Pinot Noir is a light-bodied plum-colored red wine that accentuates grilled salmon. A more delicate texture than its Cabernet counterpart, Pinot Noir complements the delicate flavors of the fish, while its acidity cuts through seafood fatty aids and sauces.
Steak: The full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon is the best companion for that sizzling New York Strip. The wine’s tannins cut through the meat’s richness, while its full texture enhances the flavors of the meat.
Spicy Thai: Riesling, a sweet white wine, pair nicely with spicy Thai (or other spicy) cuisine. The wine’s surgery taste balances out the heat, while its white wine’s acidity cut through the rich flavors. For a drier grape, try A Sauvignon Blanc, whose high acidity, like a Riesling, balances the heat.
Pasta dishes: Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine that pairs well with tomato-based pasta dishes. The wine’s acidity complements the acidity of the tomatoes, while its body enhances the richness of the pasta sauce.
Wine pairing is an essential part of any meal. Whether grabbing a grilled hamburger, fresh crab salad, or indulging in a triple-layer chocolate mouse cake, the right wine can enhance the flavor — bringing out subtle tastes and textures. And while there is a definite science behind pairing, some partnerships are broad-based suggestions. Tastes are fluid, and wine is somewhat subjective, so experiment and enjoy.
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