Pairing Food and Wine isn’t that hard
Most people regard a Sommelier’s ability to perfectly pair food and wine as complex task that requires considerable skill. The main advantage that a Som has is an intricate knowledge of the food and wine within his or hers given setting, the restaurant. This is something that a person who has an interest in being able to able to do at home (and therefore being able to do at a restaurant without the help of a wine steward or waiter who may have a different agenda), could do there with a few helpful suggestions.
The theory behind pairing lies mostly in “Balance”. Much like a chef strives for balance of flavors in his/her dishes or a winemaker tries to balance the different varietals and components of wine, the art of pairing is dependent on balancing the flavors, acidity, and structure of the wine with the components of the dish.
Some basic guidelines regarding pairing are a great foundation to start with, here are some:
- Unoaked, lighter, higher acid wines pair well with shellfish, lighter fish dishes and salads. Some of the varietals that fall in this category are Riesling, Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albarino.
- Champagne (which is amazingly versatile wine and much underused) with foods with a high salt content. Dry Champagne, along with Cava, Cremant, and New world sparkling wines actually have some inherent sweetness, which beautifully off sets the salinity of certain dishes.
- Dry Roses are your friend. No other category of wine has such a broad array of foods that it will pair with. It is an amazing catch all wine for cheeses, charcuterie, salads, fattier fish, light poultry and even barbeque foods.
- Rich, full bodied whites like Chardonnay, because of the presence of oak and the buttery, creaminess, matches wonderfully with richer fish and poultry dishes that are accompanied by a sauce.
- Full bodied, high tannin wines with fatty steaks and game. The tannins in the wine are calmed down by the high protein content of these meats and drastically change the perception of the wines, allowing the silky, dark fruits to shine.
- Sweet with heat. Spicier cuisines, such as Thai, Indian, Vietnamese and Spicy Barbeque work fantastically with wines that have residual sugar. The heat of the dishes benefits from the cooling aspect of the racy sweetness of grapes like Riesling and Gewürztraminer. The bold spicy sauces that cook chicken and pork in traditional BBQ melds wonderfully with fruity, low tannin reds like Zinfandel and Zweigelt.
- The dessert wine should be sweeter than the dessert itself. Dessert wines I like best with stinky cheeses, but can be great partners to desserts, just try to pair with fruit tarts as opposed to very sugary items.
I hope this helps you become more comfortable with pairing wine and food. Tune in next week, I will get into specific pairings.