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Food and Wine Pairings

Food and wine influence the way the other one tastes. Food can exaggerate or diminish the flavor of a wine and wine can overwhelm food.

wine as a condiment

Matching wine and food is about finding their common flavors and textures. This is something you learn by experimenting. Even though there are some matching principles that are good guides, everyone brings her own palate and taste preferences to the table.

matching “likes”

There are some guiding principles that will point you in the right direction. These principles won't tell you exactly what to order, but they'll help you understand why some foods and some wines work well together. These principles are based on the four tastes that the tongue can discern. The idea is to match similar tastes in both the food and the wine.

sour

Foods that have a sour component are good matches for wines that are high in acid. A salad with a vinaigrette dressing and a fish fillet with lemon both match well with a high-acid wine. You're matching acid with acid. Tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and green apples are examples of other high-acid foods. Sauvignon Blanc matches well with these foods as do the northern French whites of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume, Vouvray, and Chablis. The wines of Alsace and Germany generally have high acidity. The acids in reds are often masked by the tannins, but safe bets are Italian reds.

Acidity is more important in white wines than red wines. In red wines, the taste balance depends on three components: alcohol, acids, and tannins - with tannins providing most of the structure. White wines have minimal tannins so acids provide the structure.

sweet

The sweeter the food, the less sweet a wine will taste. With dessert, drink a wine that's sweeter than your food.

  • Pear tart and Sauternes
  • New York cheesecake and Muscat
  • Bread pudding with Riesling
  • Tiramisu and Port
  • Dark chocolate mousse and Banyuls

bitter

When you eat food with a hint of bitterness and drink a wine with some bitterness (from the tannins that have not yet mellowed), they cancel out each other's bitterness. The following red wines are listed from low to high tannin levels.

Beaujolais (low) - Sangiovese (medium)

Tempranillo (low) - Zinfandel (medium to high) - Pinot Noir (low)

Syrah/Shiraz (high) - Merlot (low) - Cabernet Sauvignon (high)

salt

Drink high-acid wines - especially sparkling one, with salty food. The acid cuts the saltiness.

factors Other than taste

Food and wine have texture and flavor intensity that are part of the pairing equation. Heavy wines overpower lighter foods.

The more alcohol, the more full-bodied the wine. So, even before tasting the wine, you can gauge its body by its alcohol content. A fuller-bodied wine will have more than 12 percent alcohol. Lighter-bodied wines will have under 12 percent.

cutting fat

Tannic wines will "cut the fat." Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins. As you chew your steak, your mouth is left with a coating of those fatty proteins. A sip of wine, and the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules­taking them along for the ride when you swallow. Now your mouth is refreshed and ready for the next forkful of meat.

It's not foolproof, but one way to estimate a wine's tannin level is by its color. The lighter it is,the less tannin the wine is likely to have. It stands to reason: The longer the skins stay in contact with the clear grape juice during fermentation, the more color and tannins they impart.

spice

A sweeter, lower-alcohol wine is a soothing match for spicy foods. Try a Riesling or Gewurztraminer or White Zinfandel. With the heat turned down a notch, reds come into play. Pinot Noir and Beaujolais are also candidates.

bad wine matches

Certain foods are less than ideal candidates for wine partnerships, such as:

  • Artichokes
  • Olives
  • Asparagus
  • Spinach
  • Chocolate
  • Yogurt

When "difficult" foods are part of the menu, there's a way to get around the food-wine clash: a bite of something neutral, like rice or bread, between bites and sips.

fail-safe food and wine choices

Choose wine from the country that matches your cuisine.

You're having paella? Bets are that a Rioja will be the best choice. Match your schnitzel and spaetzle with a German Riesling . . . or your osso buco with a Barolo ... or your pot-au-feu with a Cotes du Rhone.

food-friendly wines

The following wines work well in most situations:

  • Champagne or sparkling wine
  • Riesling, if you're in the mood for white
  • Pinot Noir, if you feel like a red

Dinner Menu Primer

Food (Food to Cuisine)

Drink


- , Editor, Etiquette Scholar

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