When we choose a wine that we typically want with our meal, the pairing of food with wine, most of the time we just make an educated guess on what we think will work with the food we have prepared. We know what seemed to have worked in the past so we might go that route. Or if we’re in a restaurant and we are having a special meal, we might ask the waiter or the sommelier for a suggestion. It can seem quite complex, but even the experts go back to three basics : acidity, body and flavor, with acidity the most important when pairing food.
In the long run what we are trying to accomplish when we pair food and wine is to create combinations complementing each other. The food should enhance the flavor of the wine, and likewise the wine should complement the flavor of the food. The following are the basics that we will use to properly pair food and wine :
1. Acidity. White wines are produced from grapes that are harvest earlier in the ripening process. This is when the acids are higher and the sugars are still undeveloped. These more acidic wines are ideal for seafood or poultry that is marinated in citrus, and also those that are with cream-based sauces. High acidity wines should cleanse the palate and stand up to the flavors in any of your dishes.
Low acidity wines are becoming the trend in wine-making, and unfortunately they are not considered the ideal partner for food. They may taste great on their own, but are considered easier to produce, as getting the proper balance for high acidity wines can be more difficult to achieve.
2. Body. Certain wines will have a fuller more robust taste, and this is often determined by the characteristic of the grape variety in which the wine is made as well as the quality of the wine itself. Alcohol level may also determine a wines body; wines with a higher alcohol level often will have greater body.
Generally speaking red wines may have more body, but this is not necessarily the case. Chardonnay is a white wine that is typically full-bodied, but a red wine that is very popular, Pinot Noir, is quite light. But the Merlots, Syrah’s and Cabernet Sauvignons are some of the red wines that are full-bodied. Pairing these full-bodied wines with food that is quite light and delicate, fish for example, would tend to overwhelm the food and not make for a great pairing. A light wine would not pair well with red meat, as it would not likewise stand up well to these heavy foods.
3. Flavor. Wine is just another type of food, and it has the basic flavors of any other food (except for salt). The one difference is that wine has alcohol which adds aroma and body, and this gives the wine a richer taste. Foods that are salty, bitter or sour will make the more bitter red wines such as a Cabernet seem sweeter and less tannic. So first consider the food that you are eating. Is it sweet with berries added? Then perhaps a sweeter fruit flavored wine would be best. Or if you are eating a dish that has a more acidic base, then perhaps a more citrusy drier wine would be a better option.
Complementing the flavors of food and wine is probably the most difficult aspect of wine and food pairings, but it is probably also the least important. If you can get the acidity and the body right and just have fun with the flavor pairings you will probably do just fine.