With Independence day entertaining upon us, there’s no better time to talk about pairing wine with food. And the question we get from everyone is “What wine goes with everything?”
Well, there’s no one right answer to this question. Because the goal is to make food and wine both taste better when consumed together, your pairing depends on what you’re eating, how it’s prepared, and of course what kind of wine you like to drink. But while there’s no exact science to the art of food and wine pairing, there are some simple rules you can follow to help you pick out the right wine for whatever meal you’re having.
How many times have you been told that you’re supposed to drink white wine with fish and red wine with red meat? While this may be a safe rule to follow, there’s so much more to consider than just the color of the wine! So before making any pairing decisions, you should first determine both the intensity of a dish and its key ingredients.
Intensity in food and wine refers to its weight, which depends on things such as sugar, acid, salt, spice, etc. Because you don’t want the food to overpower the wine or vice versa, you want to match the weight of a dish with the weight of a wine. This is partly why the red wine with red meat rule works—a rich, full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon pairs well with a thick, juicy, fatty steak because their intensities match.
However, would you choose the same wine if that piece of red meat was covered in a spicy sauce or was chopped up and mixed into a leafy green salad? Probably not, because the key ingredients of the dish changed and your pairing should reflect that.
The idea is to match wine to the most prominent elements in a dish, which is where some simple pairing rules can be helpful.
RULE 1: SWEET WITH HEAT:
Pair spicy foods with wines that have some residual sugar (example: German Riesling). Residual sugar actually cools down spice and creates balance between the food and the wine.
Alternatively, avoid pairing spicy food with highly alcoholic or tannic wine (example: Italian Barolo). The heat of the food will actually intensify the alcohol and the tannins in the wine, which in turn will make the dish seem even spicier.
RULE 2: SMOKE WITH OAK:
Pair grilled or charred foods with wines that have been aged in oak (example: California Chardonnay). Because oaked wines are often more intense, they can overwhelm the flavors in a dish, so they need to be paired with foods that match that intensity. Grilled/charred foods tend to tame that oaky intensity and to bring out the fruit flavors of the wine instead.
RULE 3: MATCH FLAVORS AND TEXTURES:
Pair foods with wines that have similar—or complementary—flavors and textures. An easy way to do this is to match mildly flavored wines with mildly flavored foods and big, flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines. Similarly, rich foods should be paired with rich wines. When food and wine have similar qualities, they complement each other and enhance the textures/flavors that they have in common. There’s a reason lobster with butter sauce is often paired with California Chardonnay—they are both buttery in flavor and share a rich, creamy texture. The same goes for French, un-oaked Chablis and raw oysters—both are briny in flavor and share a light, delicate texture.
RULE 4: ACID AND TANNIN WITH FAT:
Pair fried or fatty foods with wines that are high in acid (example: French Sauvignon Blanc) or tannin (example: California Cabernet Sauvignon). Acid cuts through richness in food and rounds out the flavors in your mouth. It also acts as a palate cleanser, which helps create balance between rich/oily foods and wine. However, avoid pairing acidic wines with creamy sauces. (Think of squeezing lemon into a cup of milk!) This pairing will clash, so you’re better off pairing cream-based dishes with a complementary wine instead.
Like acid, tannin also cuts through richness. This is another reason why the red wine with red meat rule works—the tannins in a wine like Cabernet Sauvignon cut through fat and help strip it from your tongue. Tannins essentially act as a palate cleanser so that you aren’t overwhelmed by the richness of the dish.
RULE 5: SWEET WITH SALT:
Pair sweet wines with salty foods. If you’ve ever had chocolate-covered pretzels or kettle corn, you know firsthand that salty and sweet can be a magical pairing. (It’s one of our favorites!) This same principle applies to salty foods paired with off-dry (slightly sweet) or sweet wines. The combination makes sweet wine taste less sweet and more fruity, and salty food taste less salty and more savory. In effect, the sweet counteracts the salt and vice versa so that both elements shine. A classic example of this is pairing blue cheese with Port.
RULE 6: SWEET WITH SWEET:
Pair dessert with wine that is at least as sweet as the dessert itself, if not sweeter. Sweet wines showcase the sweet flavors in food, but if the food is sweeter than the wine, the wine will just taste flabby.
Another good rule to follow is to pair dessert with a sweet wine that has complementary flavors. For example, Tawny Port has a sweet, nutty flavor that goes nicely with sweet, nutty desserts.
RULE 7: WHAT GROWS TOGETHER GOES TOGETHER:
Pair foods of a particular ethnicity or region with wines from the same place (example: Spanish food with Spanish wine). Ethnic/regional pairings are typically a match made in heaven because the agriculture and grapevines share the same terroir, so they naturally have flavors that complement each other.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
While there are no hard and fast rules for food and wine pairings, these simple guidelines can help you with the process. That said, tastes are subjective, so it’s really up to you to decide what pairings work best. Ultimately, the most important pairing rule to follow is to drink what you like! No pairing recommendation will ever be successful unless you actually enjoy what’s in your glass!
Let’s know what your favourites are!!!