THE DYNAMICS OF FOOD AND WINE
Food and wine are like dancing partners. Each one affects the performance of the other. Sometimes they are just slightly out of step. At other times, their footwork is seamless and on occasion, they move as one and it is a magical experience. Then there are the times, when one steps on the other but it’s still a lot of fun!
When most of us plan meals we choose the food first and then add the wine. In this way, picking the wine is much like choosing a condiment! First and foremost, you will want to match the common flavors and textures of the food and the wine. There is no hard and fast set of rules for this as everyone has their own palate and taste preferences but there are some good guidelines to follow that will increase your chances for a good experience and maybe even a great one!
Let’s start with matching the similar tastes in both the food and the wine based on the four tastes that the tongue can discern.
A Sour Taste in Your Mouth
Foods that have a sour component are good matches for wines that are high in acid. Think vinaigrette and lemon. You need to match acid with acid, keeping in mind that the lemon may be on fish and the vinaigrette on salad but you are not matching to them but more to the preparation. Tomatoes, onions, green peppers and green apples are examples of other high acid foods that are not usually the main component of a dish but will be what you need to keep in mind when choosing your wine. Some potentially good partners for high acid foods are Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc, and Champagne. For red wines, think Italian! Those wines go perfectly with tomato based pasta sauces. That being said, acidity is much more important in the taste and structure of white wines than red wines. In red wines, the taste balance depends on three components: alcohol, acids and tannins- with tannins providing the most structure. White wines have minimal tannins; therefore there are only two components to consider: alcohol and acids- with acids providing the structure.
When it comes to sweet foods, the sweeter the food, the less sweet the wine will taste. If you are eating roast pork with a glass of off-dry white wine, the sweetness of the wine will stand out. Top the pork with a sweet glaze and your off-dry white wine will taste positively dry. When you get to dessert, the rule of thumb is to drink a wine that is sweeter than you food. If not, your wine will taste thin, dry and even bitter compared with when you pair it with a sweet blockbuster. Some suggestions are: Cheesecake and Muscat, bread pudding and late harvest Riesling, and Tiramisu and Port or dark chocolate and Port.
Don’t Be Bitter
When you eat food with a hint of bitterness and drink wine with some bitterness (from untamed tannins), they cancel out each other’s bitterness and you are the winner! Some examples of wines with high tannins are: Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, and Zinfandel.
Salt of The Earth
There are no salty wines, thank goodness! But there are plenty of salty foods: ham, smoked salmon, oysters and teriyaki are just some examples. The best wines for these foods? See high acid wines above! Acid cuts the saltiness, especially good for this is sparkling wines.
Wine Has Power
Of course, there is more to wine (and matching it with food) than just the four tastes. Another component to consider is the power (or weight) of the wine. Both the wine and the food will have flavor intensity that is part of the pairing equation. The match up needs to be comparable. A big, brawny Cabernet would overwhelm your broiled tilapia and a light Pinot Gris will disappear when paired with a peppery steak.
Alcohol is one of the contributors to a wine’s sense of body and weight. The more alcohol, the more full bodied the wine and vice versa. So even before tasting, check the alcohol content on the bottle, over 12% is considered fuller- bodied and less than 12% is considered light-bodied.
Cutting The Fat
Another think to keep in mind is fat! It is said that high tannic wines will “cut the fat”. Sorry, the calories are still there! What that really means is that wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins and after you chew your steak your mouth is coated with those fatty proteins. A sip of wine, and the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules-taking them for a ride when you swallow. This refreshes your mouth and makes you ready to do it all again!
Spice Up Your Life!
Finally, let’s talk spicy! Honestly, the fiery dishes from Thailand, Mexico or India are probably better paired with a glass of milk! But if wine it is, think sweeter and lower in alcohol like a Riesling or Gewurztraminer or maybe even a……(gasp) White Zinfandel. If red is all you do, then think Pinot Noir or Beaujolais.
I hope you find all of this information easy to “digest”. Keep in mind that these are just some guiding principles that will point you in the right direction and hopefully help you to understand why some foods and some wines are so compatible.
There is no doubt that when a food and wine combination has real synergy, the effect can be a third flavor experience that’s greater than the two consumed separately. Admittedly, it’s rare and when it does happen it’s usually fate. So, seeking two partners that are comparable seems a reasonable strategy to stumble upon the “perfect” combination! I wish you the best of luck and happy experimenting!
Contains material adapted and abridged from “The Everything Guide to Wine” by Peter Alig.