As much as we enjoy a good glass of wine over conversation with friends, we feel wine is at its best when paired with food. Quite simply, wine and food were meant for each other. When a wine and food combination works the flavors of both are enhanced in a way that wouldn’t have happened if each was served alone.
We like to think of it as 1+1=3. And the best part is that there is no one right answer when matching wine and food. A number of wines can work with a given dish. This allows for lots of experimentation.
So, enjoy the journey and don’t be afraid to try different combinations. You never know when you’ll discover something new.
First of all, there is only one “rule” when matching wine and food. The best wine to pair with your meal is the wine you like. After all, no matter how “great” a wine is and how “perfect” it is with the dish, if you don’t like it who cares. So, if you insist on drinking Liebfraumilch with lamb chops, go ahead. That being said, it’s important to understand that when wine and food meet, they do change. It could be for the better or the worse, depending on the combination. And when they don’t work, the wine always loses. Here are some of the things you need to know in order to make more successful matches.
1.} What is wine’s role with food?
Did you ever notice how people tend to pause a moment after the first bite of food and savor it? I think the reason for this is that it’s the best bite you’ll take because there are no other flavors in the way. Wouldn’t it be great if every bite could be like the first one? Well, it can be and that is wine’s role – to cleanse the palate of flavor so each bite can be like the first. If you achieve this harmony you will elevate the experience to a new level.
2.} Determine the dominant flavor in the dish
This is the first and most important step. The dominant flavor of the dish will determine if the wine you choose is red or white. More often than not, the dominant flavor is a sauce, but it could be a spice, or it could be just the charred flavor you get from the grill. Understanding this will help dispel the myth that you only match white wine with fish and red wine with meat.
Sweetness in a dish makes the wine always taste drier. If you make a dry wine drier, it becomes bitter and astringent. That’s why you have to match sweetness in the dish with the appropriate amount of sweetness in the wine. The sweetness in the dish will actually make a sweet wine taste less sweet.
4.} Hot and spicy
In this situation, the heat in the dish is the dominant flavor. Coincidentally, sweetness again is needed to resolve the heat on your palate. In this case, it’s a study in contrast – the hotter the dish, the sweeter the wine has to be. Another key element you need is low alcohol, because the heat in the food will amplify the alcohol in the wine. If you start off with a wine with high alcohol for example, a big Chardonnay with 12%-14% alcohol, the alcohol will intensify making the wine very hot and clumsy and your palate will still be hot from the food. An appropriate amount of sweetness and low alcohol are essential in balancing hot or spicy food.
You may have heard people say wine doesn’t go with salad. The reason for this is that the acid in vinegar wreaks havoc on most wines. However, if you serve an acidic wine with that salad, the wine’s sourness is negated by the salad’s sourness. Your best match will be an unoaked, light-bodied wine like German Riesling or something from northern Italy. Replacing the vinegar with lemon juice is also a way to avoid the problem.
There are no salty wines but there are plenty salty foods. Light-bodied, low alcohol, unoaked, dry or slightly sweet wines work well here. Sparkling wines are also a great match.
Click here to download our free Food & Wine Guide (pdf file)