Pairing wine with food can be intimidating. It is one thing if you are choosing for yourself alone, quite another when faced with the task of choosing for guests. We fear appearing unsophisticated or at the least having a less than satisfactory experience.
If you already know what a wine tastes like, you are past half the battle. When ordering wine by the glass in a restaurant, do not hesitate to ask for a sample. They already have a bottle open and it should be no problem. Your server should also be able to describe a wine to you. Many wine bars and stores have tasting nights. If you attend those make a note of the wines you like, what they taste like, and what sort of meal you would want them to accompany.
But maybe just knowing what wines you like isn’t enough. Maybe you still don’t know how to pair that wine with a meal. This is understandable because the “rules” are not completely straightforward. Ask five different experts and you will get some variance. Even asking five people in general is likely to produce a mixed response.
Another complicating factor is that neither meals nor wines are one dimensional. I sat in on wine and food pairing class that some colleagues of mine were conducting. On my plate where little bites to represent the major flavor components of food. I had a spicy chip, a packet of salt, chocolate cake, lemon, red apple, cheese, and ham. It occurred to me that diners don’t experience these flavors in isolation. The ham alone could represent salt, fat, and sweetness. There wasn’t total agreement among the class about how these representative flavors paired with the wines. We tried pairings with sweet Riesling, Pinot Grigio, oaked Chardonnay, Chianti, and a new world Bordeaux style blend. Among other taste opinions, some people thought the red apple and the oaked Chardonnay were a good match while others liked the apple with Chianti. And guess what? You can’t really say either were wrong since the most important thing to determine is DO YOU LIKE IT.
Tasting Pour is setting out to let you in on as many wine and food pairing secrets as possible. There is too much to cover in one post so let us begin with one guideline that seems to bring universal agreement. Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. In terms of wine, weight means body. Body comes from alcohol, tannins, wood influence, varietal character, etc. Lighter wines feel thinner and more delicate in the mouth. The spectrum is often compared to milk with skim being very light and cream being very full bodied. A Riesling, which would not experience wood influence, with an alcohol level of 8.5- 10% is much lighter than an oaked Chardonnay at 13.5% abv.
|Wine list hints to predict body.
Click here for glossary entries defining Old World and New World.
Many other factors come into play – wine’s interaction with salt, fat, spice, sweet – plus the flavors themselves. We will cover them all, maybe one a month, until we all become experts. Remember, regardless of your pairing hurrahs and faux pas, you get to have food AND wine, so how bad can it be?This article was included in Tasty Traditions along with other interesting articles about food and drinks.