Food and Wine Pairing 101
By Stacey Metulynsky, co-host of This Food, That Wine
There are so many styles of wine available in stores these days, and when you add that to the fact that todayís food shops and restaurants are filled with flavours from around the world, the possibilities for wine and food matching are endless. But donít be discouraged by all this variety.
Here are a few basic tips to get you started in putting together your own delicious wine and food pairings. And remember, do what tastes good to you. Wine and food matching is both an art and a science. Keep these tips in mind and let your taste buds do the rest.
You donít want your wine to overpower your food, but you also donít want the flavours of your food to be too intense for the wine. Complicated? Not really. Consider both the flavours and the textures of your food, as well as the wine when trying to find a balance. For instance, steamed lobster is a rich, buttery meat with a subtle, sweet flavour Thatís delicate enough for a white wine, but because the texture is so rich, the white wine should also be rich and full bodied; an oak-aged Chardonnay is the perfect pairing.
Determine what the most dominant flavour in your dish is, then match your wine to that flavour. Often, this is the sauce or seasonings used in the dish rather than the meat. letís say youíre making chicken (light, mild-flavoured) with a big, spicy barbeque sauce. The sauce would be more important in choosing a wine than would the chicken because itís the dominant flavour. Think of a fruity, medium-bodied red (like a Gamay or a Grenache).
One way of creating delicious matches is to mirror the characteristics of the food in the wine you chose. A jammy, berry-flavoured red Zinfandel with a rich meat and a berry sauce works so well because the flavour of the wine is mirrored in the flavour of the sauce. And hereís a little tip: add a splash of the wine you are serving to the sauce for a fool-proof match!
This is the opposite of mirroring. Sometimes when you contrast the characteristics of the food with those of the wine you can end up with an entirely different but delicious pairing. Stilton and Port is a classic example; Port is a sweet, rich wine that perfectly contrasts the strong, pungent, salty cheese to create an amazing taste sensation.
Ever wonder why a bottle of Chianti tastes so good with a bowl of spaghetti with rich, tomato meat sauce? Because they were made for each other! Regional wine styles developed over the years to complement the cuisine of that area, so when in doubt, try a regional wine pairing for your dish.
Consider Acid, Sugar and Tannin
These are all key components in wine that need to be considered when choosing your wine match. Acidity in food can make a wine without much acidity taste bland or flabby. Take tomatoes for example; they are packed with acid and need a wine with enough acidity to balance it out. Try a light to medium-bodied red from Italy (such as Chianti, Valpolicella or Dolcetto), or a zesty white such as Sauvignon Blanc.
Sweetness in food also needs to be balanced. If you are serving a dessert or even a savoury dish that has a sweet element (such as a mango salsa on fish or candied nuts in a salad), pick a wine that has a touch of sweetness to balance it off. For desserts, your wine should always be at least as sweet as your dessert.
Finally, tannins are a component of wine that comes from skins, seeds and stems of grapes. Theyíre found mostly in red wine and leave an astringent feeling in your mouth (much like strongly brewed tea). Itís easy to tame the tannins: simply pair your tannic wine with a dish high in protein. A classic example is Cabernet Sauvignon with a big, juicy steak. The protein in the meat coats your mouth and makes the tannins in the wine seem soft and smooth.
Donít Forget the Alcohol
The alcohol content in wine can have a big impact on how it tastes with the food, especially when the food you are serving is spicy. Alcohol intensifies spice, so unless you love blow-your-mouth-off heat, avoid serving high-alcohol wines with your spicy dishes. A great alternative is an off-dry wine, which has just a bit of sweetness in it. The alcohol level in these wines tend to be lower, and the sweetness cools down the heat of the spice.