Planning a meal or trying a new recipe can be a challenge in and of itself but figuring out what wine to serve with it can be overwhelming. Most people have heard of the saying, white wine with fish and red with meat, but there are some general guidelines beyond this old adage that can help you create a delicious food and wine connection.
To start, keep in mind that in general the flavors of food have a greater impact on how a wine will taste than the other way around and most often it’s negative. There are two groups of flavor compounds in food, sweetness and umami, that can spoil the flavor of a wine and two others that can enhance it, acid and salt. It is also desirable to match the flavor intensity of a dish with a wine of similar intensity so that they do not overpower each other.
Keeping these guidelines in mind along with those below will have you well on the way to creating perfect wine and food pairings.
Sweet Food with Sweeter Wine:
Sweetness in food can make a dry wine bitter and astringent and decrease the perception of body and fruitiness resulting in an unpleasant aftertaste. A good rule of thumb is when a dish contains sugar to select a wine with a higher level of sweetness to serve with it.
Balance the Acid:
Acidity in food brings out the taste perception of body and fruitiness in a high acid wine, like a Pinot Grigio. The acid in the food balances the acid in the wine and mellows out the sharp pucker that a wine high in acid can leave in the mouth.
Fat Loves Acid:
Fatty foods make high acid wines taste less acidic, softer, and more fruit forward. Wine with good acidity also provides an appealing mouth feel of cutting through the richness of a high fat dish, cleansing the palate, and leaving the eater wanting another bite.
Salt Loves Wine:
Salt is very wine friendly and, like acid in food, enhances the wine’s body while decreasing the perception of bitterness, astringency, and acidity.
Chili Heat in Food:
Hot and spicy dishes can increase the feeling of alcohol burn and heighten the perception of bitterness and acidity of a wine while also decreasing the body, richness, and fruit flavors. This effect is greater when the food is consumed with high alcohol (>14% ABV) wines versus those lower in alcohol.
Complement or Contrast
Another and broader way to combine food and wine is to create a congruent or contrasting flavor pairing. A congruent pairing creates an amplification of the shared flavor compounds in a food and wine, for example buttered popcorn with an oaky buttery chardonnay. A contrasting pairing brings together foods that complement each other, like the salty and sweet combination of blue cheese and Ruby Port.
There is a lot to consider when pairing wine and food and hopefully with these basic guidelines in hand you can now start to experiment and learn what wine and food combinations you love.