Today I want to talk about the marriage of food and wine and how to pair them together.
Over many years of presenting wines at numerous events across the world, I have come to realise that there are as many views (and opinions) held about different wines and vintages as there are drinkers.
Wine is very personal and offers us the opportunity to agree to disagree. I am very much of the opinion that you should drink the wine you enjoy and whether you are at one with the experts is largely irrelevant. However, there are some guiding principles when it comes to pairing wine with food.
Whether it is savoury or sweet, game, poultry or fish, or even at different times of the year or time of the day, here are some tips for enhancing the enjoyment of your chosen wine.
The Importance of balancing acidity
We start with the wine pairing basics which is the principle of balancing acidity.
Imagine eating a ripe cherry tomato, followed by a dry, white Sauvignon Blanc – the contrast between the acidity of the wine is amplified by the sweetness of the tomato. Yet when we drink the wine on its own, it will be delicious, smooth and with the perfect balance between its own natural fruit and acidity.
This happens because our sense of taste reacts very quickly which means that the order in which we try different food and drink immediately influences the way how they taste.
In simplest terms, if we have something sweet followed by something acidic, the perception of acidity is heightened because of the contrast against the sweet item.
So, the trick in a successful food and wine pairing is in part to find wines and food with similar acidity levels and to never condemn a wine after eating a cherry tomato!
The Power of Food
Wines are similarly affected by the power of food – a glorious Chablis tasted after an Asian spiced sea bass will appear as watery and tasteless. In this example, the strength of the lemongrass, chilli, coriander and garlic with fish as the conduit, simply overpowers the nuances of a fine Chablis.
Spice is difficult to match with wine. Often, beer might be a better choice to accompany spicy dishes instead. However, there are grape varieties, such as Gewürztraminer and the remarkably versatile Riesling, which are worth trying the next time you order spicy food.
This example illustrates that the game is to match the strength of flavour when combining food and wine.
Classic Wine and Food Pairings
Some well-known combinations traditionally seem to be made for each other; such as Champagne and smoked salmon.
The salmon coats the palate and prevents some of the Champagne’s acidity from becoming too aggressive. White Burgundy and foie gras, Pinot Noir & lamb (not spiced), Cabernet Sauvignon and beef are three other safe options but the success of the pairing will always depend on the amount and type of seasoning.
Some wines are also suited for sweet food like desserts. The German Spätlese can pair well with desserts like apple pie due to its dryness that balances out the sweetness of the sugar.
Breaking the Rules
Fortunately, we are all unique and, whether this is exhibited in our food and drink preferences or choices of art or music, the fact remains that we are different. Food and wine pairings do include some marmite moments of love or hate. One example is red wine with chocolate.
Regardless of whether you enjoy the combination, all the acidity and strength rules are being broken. It is perhaps a good example of the fact that rules, when it comes to food and wine, are made to be broken. I love individuality and it should never be criticised.
Wines for every season and occasion
Psychologically, we are drawn to different food and wine throughout the year. Most people do not drink Rosé in the cold, winter months as it is associated with hot sunny days in the south of France.
Similarly, a slow-cooked stew with a thick sauce loses its appeal when winter turns to spring. If there are any rules when it comes to the seasons, light, white wines have great appeal in the Summer months, while rich red wines are a joy to drink in the cooler seasons.
Two fortified wines associated with different foods are Port and Madeira. A sweet, rich port traditionally drunk with stilton, also makes a delicious accompaniment to desserts made with berries and dark chocolate. Madeira is not only used in desserts and sauces, but may be consumed as either an aperitif, to accompany dessert or cheese, or as a digestif.
We finally turn to the sparkling wine, Champagne. There are so many reasons and occasions for drinking ‘fizz’; whether to toast a celebration or with a Champagne breakfast, high tea or before supper.
The marriage of food and wine is just one of several themes for our wine tasting events.
For our online wine tastings, food is sometimes included with the wines we send out. Alternatively, guidance for food to the source is sent to each guest before the event.
During the tasting I suggest which accompaniment to marry with each wine and in which order. Pairing food and wine, like many relationships, is personal, with the ultimate aim of creating harmony and balance.
Come join us on our next wine tasting session here, where you can try out different pairings from the comfort of your own home. Whether you choose white wine or red wine, dry wines or sweet wines, we are sure to have something for everybody who wishes to join the world of wine tasting.
Nevertheless, I hope these wine pairing tips will help heighten your wine tasting experiences for your next wine.