Food & Wine Pairing 101

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WEIGHT/RICHNESS OF THE FOOD AND WINE

The first and most important element to consider should be to match the weight of the food with that of the wine. Rich heavyweight foods like game, roast meats and red meat casseroles, need a full-bodied wine. Powerful red wines are often the favoured choice, although it is the body of the wine which is the most important consideration rather than its colour or flavour Lighter food, such as plain white meat or fish, is complemented by more delicate wine. Although white wines are the normal choice, light bodied, low tannin red wines can also be successful. One must also remember the contribution of the sauce. A rich creamy sauce will need a wine of sufficient body to match the food and flavours that will complement the smooth creamy, buttery taste.

 

FLAVOUR INTENSITY OF THE FOOD AND THE WINE

After weight, the next most important element to consider is flavour and intensity. Flavour intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same. Think of a food that has
a lot of weight but low in flavour, say plain boiled potatoes or plain boiled rice; both
are heavy in weight but light in flavour. At the other end of the scale thinks of a plate
of raw, thinly sliced red or green peppers; these are high in flavour but light in weight. Wines can be the same. Riesling, for example makes a lightweight wine that is intensely flavoured, while Chardonnay makes a full bodied, heavyweight wine that can be low in flavour. Delicate wines and strong flavoured foods do not match. Also worth noting is the way food has been cooked. Steamed food is lighter than roasted or fried food.

 

OIL, SALT AND TANNINS

Tannin in combination with oily fish can result in an unpleasant metallic taste, so the general recommendation is to avoid red wines with fish. However, low tannin reds are fine with meaty fish. Wines with high tannin content can also taste bitter with salty foods.

 

ACIDITY IN THE FOOD AND THE WINE

Sour flavours in food make wines
taste less acidic, and therefore less vibrant and refreshing. For this
reason any acidity found in the food should be matched by acidity in the accompanying wines. Tomatoes, lemons, pineapples, apples and vinegar are all high in acidity. One of the characteristics of Italian wines is their high acidity. This is because much

of Italian cuisine is dominated by two ingredients – tomatoes and olive oil, and other acidic ingredients such as lemons, balsamic vinegar and wine are often used – hence wines that go with Italian foods need high acidity.

 

‘CHEWY’ MEAT AND TANNINS

Tannin in red wine reacts with protein. Foods with high protein content, particularly rare red meat will soften the effects of the tannin on the palate. This is why wines from high- tannin grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon
or Syrah/Shiraz, go well with roast meats, stews and steaks. Light, fruity
red wines with low levels of tannin, like Pinot Noir, Beaujolais and Valpolicella, will complement white meats because these are low in proteins and lighter than meats such as lamb and beef.

 

FRUITY FLAVOURS

Fruity flavours in food can be matched with fruity/floral wines. For example a Muscat or Zibibbo can be paired with a fruit salad.

 

SALTY FOODS AND SWEET OR HIGH- ACID WINES

Salty foods are enhanced by a touch of sweetness. Think of classic combinations like prosciutto and figs. The same works with wine. Roquefort cheese and Sauternes, or Port and Stilton are famous matches. Salty foods also benefit from a little acidity. Olives, oysters and other shellfish go best with crisp, dry light-bodied white wines like Muscadet or a Sancerre.

It is no wonder that Fino Sherry or Manzanilla are classic accompaniments for olives or salted nuts.

 

SWEETNESS IN THE FOOD AND THE WINE

Dry wines can seem tart and over-acidic when consumed with any food
with a degree of sweetness. Sweet food is best with wine that has a similar or greater degree of sweetness; the sweeter the food, the sweeter the wine needs
to be. German and Austrian wines include many late harvest wines. Also sweet Muscat wines like the Passito from Pantelleria, Sauternes and ice wines are excellent for this purpose with puddings and cheese.

 

SMOKED FOODS

Smoked foods need wines with enough character to cope with the strength of the smoking. Lightly smoked salmon is a classic partner
for Brut Champagne; smoked meats like pork can benefit from some slight sweetness in the wine like that found in some German Rieslings; smoky barbecued flavours suit powerful oaked wines like Australian Shiraz

 

FATTY/OILY FOODS AND HIGH-ACID WINES

Wines with a good level of acidity can be superb with rich oily foods, such as
a pate. For example, Sauternes works well with foie gras. Here the weight of both wine and food are simillar, and the acidity in the wine helps it cut through the fattiness of the food. This is also
an example of matching a sweet wine
to a savoury food. Crisp wines such as Riesling and unoaked Barberas can make a good match with fatty meats such as duck and goose. Foods that have been cooked by frying will need wines with high acidity, because the method of cooking increases the fat content.

 

SPICY FOODS

Spicy foods are best matched by wines that are made from really ripe, juicy fruit, either unoaked or very lightly oaked (many spices accentuate the flavours of oak). Wines such as New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc and Rose can work well with highly spiced foods, as can ripe Chilean Merlot. Spicy wines such as Gewurztraminer can also complement spicy dishes. Chablis also works well with these dishes.

 

TROUBLESOME PAIRINGS

There are a number of foods that always pose the greatest challenge when paired with wine. Here are a few:

Vinegar or vinegar based sauces or relishes like cranberry sauce – Vinegar is wine that has been acted on by bacteria called acetobacter, which turns the alcohol in the wine into acetic acid and water. Because of this, most wines tend to taste spoiled in the presence of vinegar. Look for clean bright, and high acid wines to pair the best; whites being most favorable.

Artichoke and Asparagus – As both have weed-like flavours, again it is a good idea to look for high acid, grassy, herbaceous wines like S. Blanc from the Loire as well as NZ Sauvignon Blanc.

Egg and egg -based dishes – The sulfurous quality of the egg has a similar effect as vinegar, imparting an unpleasant flavour to softer wines. Again look for clean, bright and high acid wines.

Chocolate – The variability of chocolate in sweetness and texture can be difficult to pair with wine. For sweeter chocolate, look for sweeter wines like port or dark VDN. For semi- sweet or even bittersweet chocolate, look for drier wines; for instance the Barton&Guestier Medoc Privee, a dry red which is full of similar flavours and a heavenly pairing to chocolate tart

Monique Chambers
Monique Chambers

Monique started indulge in 2011 and has since created Indulge Me GIFT and Indulge Me FOOD and volume 1 of The Artists Directory - Malta. A marketing professional by trade, Monique's passion is to promote local talent and Malta in general. Free time is her biggest indulgence, when she can tinker in her craft room or the kitchen, or be selfish with a book, the sofa and good glass of wine (of course, wearing something beautiful and with freshly coiffed hair!)

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