Wine is an integral part of fine dining, and food and wine pairing rules look like knowledge-on-demand nowadays. The right wines can accentuate the good flavors of a meal, bringing out certain flavors and nuances. A good match enhances the characteristics of both the food and the wine. The wrong pairings can ruin the dining experience altogether by making foods taste bitter, overly sweet, or metallic.
The good news is that you don’t have to be a professional sommelier to be able to make right choices about the wines to serve with your meals. There are some basic food and wine pairing rules, but other than that, there are suggestions and recommendations rather than strict principles. Moreover, rules are quite often broken, as there is no universal way of matching food and wine, and experimentation is often the key to success.
Then, when the rules concerning “red wine with red meat and white wine with fish and poultry” were invented, the foods were probably not so multi-ethnic and complex, and all sorts of wines from different parts of the globe were not as universally available as they are now.
Wine can be compared to spice when it comes to effects it has on food. Interacting with food, tannins, acids, and sugars of wine provide a range of different taste sensations, giving a new interpretation to the flavor of food. Finding similarities or contrasts of flavor, taste, intensity, body and texture of food and wine may lead to creating outstanding pairs.
First off, when pairing food and wine, it is important to pay attention to the following elements of wine: the grape variety, body, flavors, acidity, and alcohol content. The wine producer and vintage can also play a significant role, if you are aware of the style and vintage variations of the wine region. You also need to know the dominating flavors of food to be able to match it well.
Balance is the key word when it comes to perfect food and wine matches: neither wine nor food should overpower each other. Ideally, the flavor of the wine should be slightly stronger than the matching flavor of the meal.
A powerful full-bodied wine pairs better with richly flavored foods. Consequently, light-bodied wines should be paired with lighter foods. This is largely the basic principle of balancing flavor intensity.
It is a common practice to pair wines with foods which have similar characteristics. Sweet wines go well with desserts. However, you are not recommended to pair a wine with food that is sweeter than the wine. Acidic wines are well-paired with salty foods, creamy or cheesy sauces, fish dishes and salad dressings. Bitter wines suit sour meals, as sourness and salt in food tend to suppress bitter taste in wine.
It is possible to adjust food flavor to pair with the wine more successfully. High acidity in food will decrease the sensation of sourness in wine. Sweet dishes will increase the sensation of bitterness and astringency in wine. Salty- and sour-tasting foods make wines taste milder and fruitier. Sweet and savory tastes give wines a stronger and drier taste.
In general, it is recommended to pair the wine with the sauce, seasoning or dominant flavor of the dish. In order to reach balance in food and wine pairings, a variety of seasonings is often used. For example, to make the wine taste milder, you can use salt, lemon, mustard or vinegar. If you need to make it taste stronger, use sugar or some savory ingredients.
Matching flavors is not the only way you can achieve a wonderful pairing result. Pairing opposites may work out great as well. For example, hot or spicy foods often pair well with sweet desert wines. Sometimes very surprising combinations work out the best.
If you are serving more than one wine at a meal, stick to the general rules of serving lighter wines before full-bodied ones, dry wines before sweet wines, and lower alcohol wines before higher alcohol wines. White wine is normally a good match for salads and lighter dishes, red wine goes perfectly well with steaks and heavier meat sauces, and ports usually end a meal, going with a piece of cake.
Very often, matching food and wine by geographic location is a very good idea. The wine and cuisine of the same region (for example, Spanish wine and dishes of Spanish cuisine) seem to have developed a natural likeness over time, and pair exceptionally well.
If it is an expensive wine of an older vintage that you want to show off, there is no need to serve a very complex dish along with it. You will need a simple dish to allow the wine to be the center of attention.
It goes without saying that you should match quality of food and wine. Select a wine for an occasion, following an easy guideline: the more significant the occasion, the better the wine.
The best pairing is excellent food, excellent wine and a good company of friends.
Always put the people who will be eating your meals and drinking your wine before any wine pairing rules. Every individual’s sense of taste is different. So, if someone doesn’t like seafood, he/she won’t appreciate your perfectly matched white wine along with it. But thanks to the diversity of options, you can always find a compromise that would suite all your guests. Food and wine pairing is a unique art, and as in any art, each person should find his or her own favorite style, respecting the tastes of others.