Guest Post by Lily McCann.
Food and drink articles and programs often stress the importance of combining food with the right type of wines. There can sometimes to an element of snobbery attached to this subject as at the end of the day, enjoying food and wine is a subjective experience and people can try and enjoy any combination that suits them. That said, most people that have pursued food and wine pairings with a passion find the basic principles behind matching food and wine to be useful and likely to help you find some combinations that you really enjoy. So in very simple terms, here are some guidelines that can be easily followed.
Traditional advice is to combine regional wines with foods of the same region, and this wisdom rarely fails. Claret or Rioja with roasted lamb, Loire Valley whites with goat cheese or Muscadet with fresh shell-fish are classic combinations and their success outlines some of the principles that can guide the best pairings of food and wine.
Balancing Food & Wine
Ensuring that food and wine have a similar weight or mouthfeel is the first guideline for masterful pairings. Simply put, delicate dishes taste better with lighter wines while rich foods fare better with something bigger. This is the origin of the old rule of thumb “fish with white and meats with reds“. Chicken and pork will usually work with either (except for the more extreme examples of each), though both can be pulled towards one end of the color spectrum or the other based on the sauce they are cooked in and the cooking method. Of course, these rules are there to be broken, and (for example) fish can be enjoyed with red wine (but ideally a wine low in tannin and high in acid) such as Pinot Noir or Bardolino.
Crisp, un-oaked white wines are generally seen as a good accompaniment to shellfish and fish dishes. This is even truer with fish (or any dish) prepared or served with vinegar or a wedge of lemon as the acid alters the threshold at which our palates perceive acidity in the wine – pairing such a dish with a flabby wine low in acidity would make the wine taste sweet or oaky or simply “bad”. If a food has an acidic dimension, choose a wine that has marked acidity and preferably unoaked as opposed to oaked.
Red wine and meat
Many red wines are loaded with tannins that can overcome the flavor of many foods. Choosing fatty foods that provide a protein or cream barrier will make both the wine and the food taste more pleasant. Tannin molecules latch onto the nearest available protein and if nothing else is available, your gums and teeth will do, which is why drinking a tannic red wine makes your mouth feel “dry” – it steals the slipperiness from your saliva!
When the tannin molecules have a decent steak or lamb to occupy them, a young red wine will seem softer and more approachable. Soft creamy cheeses perform a similar task, providing a coat of protein for the palate and as such they pair more favorably with young red wines than do hard cheeses. A diet of red meat, red wine and soft cheese may not be the healthiest way to eat every day, but there are plenty of healthy living blogs such as those highlighted by KwikMed that provide a range of lower fat recipes that can be enjoyed as part of a balanced diet. For other meats such as chicken and pork cooked in roasts or casseroles, try livelier, fruitier red wines (Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, and cooler weather Zinfandels) that don’t contain as much tannin.
Fusion foods are arguably responsible for the breakdown in the traditional food and wine pairing guidelines. These inventive combinations of flavors from different parts of the world can leave wine lovers wondering where to start. But rest assured, the guidelines mentioned above still apply – when pairing wine with fusion foods simply consider its acidity, sweetness, protein and heat and go from there. Spicier dishes are best combined with un-oaked white wines, softer red wines or wines with a touch of sweetness and lower alcohol. If a dish has a lot of sweetness to it, the wine must be even sweeter than the dish for the pairing to be pleasant.
As stated above, the most important thing is always to enjoy your food and wine paring no matter how you combine them. And don’t worry – you will still probably select some bad pairings upon occasion. Just make a mental note of the combinations that worked well for you and think about why the worked using the guidelines above for body weight, tannin, acidity, sweetness, and alcohol levels. If you can build a good repertoire of food and drink combinations that you know you enjoy, you can return to them whenever you like. Or venture out and be a bit more adventurous!