The Marriage of Food and Wine
It’s all about balance, harmony, and respect for individual taste
I am not going to call myself a marriage specialist, although it is tempting as I have plus 20 years’ experience. But I do think that some of the main ingredients for a happy marriage is balance, compatibility, and a good threshold for different opinions. And then of course frequent time together sharing a delicious bottle of wine.
The art of pairing food and wine is a concept based on similar principles: Balance, harmony, and some room for the out of box pairing.
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. 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. Having said that there are some guiding rules that will help you elevate the experience.
The Marriage of Food and Wine is one of the most popular themes for Lunzer Wine events. For a good reason. In wine as in life, there are so many ways you can go wrong, but equally so many ways you can hit the right spot that elevates the experience to perfection.
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 guiding tips for enhancing the enjoyment of your chosen wine.
I have tried to pack in the main principles + lots of ideas for classic and out of the box pairing and what to avoid.
1) The Importance of balancing acidity is the basic principle of the wine pairing.
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 impression they give us and '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!
2) 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 but also that there are just a few grape varieties suited to being immune to the effects of spice!.
3) 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.
4) 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.
5) 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.
HOW TO PAIR FOOD AND WINE IDEAS
Based on principles above here’s some ideas to pairing food and wine:
Best Wine with Steak
Steak is rich, heavy, and fatty, so you’ll want a full-bodied red wine that can stand up to it. A big, tannic red wine is the classic pairing. The full body will hold its own against the richness of the steak, and the tannins in the wine will balance out the fattiness of the meat. The fattier the cut of steak, the more tannins you’ll want in your wine.
Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah/Shiraz, Malbec, Rhône Valley (South)
Rioja, Reds from Languedoc, Madiran, Cahors
Avoid: This depends on the cut of steak you choose; if you choose a leaner cut you can go with a lighter red that a fattier steak would completely overwhelm. White wines can be difficult with steak, but not impossible. Just go for the heaviest, richest white you can find, like an oaked Chardonnay or a rich Viognier.
Best Wine with Fish
There are plenty of myths surrounding food and wine pairings, but one of the most common is that fish can only be paired with white wine. Red wine with fish can be an excellent pairing! The key is to pair meatier, richer fish with a light red wine. Salmon, one of the most popular types of fish, is the perfect example. Pairing wine with salmon is great as it goes with many types of wine varieties, including both red and white. Here are some great options for a salmon wine pairing.
Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc
Also try: Beaujolais/Gamay Loire/Cabernet Franc
Alsace Pinot Gris, Alsace Riesling
Avoid: Remember to stay away from heavy, tannic reds. The red wine and salmon pairing only works with lighter, less tannic red wines. If you want to cook a lighter style of white fish, stick with white wine; as even a light red will overwhelm the delicate flavour of white fish. Keep in mind if you top your fish with a rich sauce, you’ll want to choose a slightly richer white wine to match the sauce.
Best Wine with Risotto
Another classic date night dish is risotto. It’s a great match with a wide variety of wines, allowing for some fun, interesting pairings. The best wine for risotto will match the creamy richness of the dish. Like salmon, both lighter reds and whites pair well with risotto.
Northern Rhône whites (Viognier) Chardonnay, Spainish white (Viura) Italian White (Falanghina)
To keep the Italian theme, choose a Dolcetto for a light red or a Soave for a white.
Avoid: This will depend on what ingredients you add to your risotto, but in general avoid tannic reds or very fruity-flavoured red wines.
Best Wine Pairing with Dessert
The golden rule to dessert wine pairing is to choose a wine sweeter than your dessert. If your desserts are sweeter, it will make the sweet wines taste astringent and unpleasant. After that, you have plenty of choices. Here are some suggestions if you are serving a chocolate dessert.
Sauternes, Port, Malmsey Madaira (especially with chocolate) PX Sherry
Brachetto d’Acqui, Maury, Banyuls, Demi-Sec Champagne
Avoid: If your chocolate dessert is very rich, choose a strong fortified wine that will be able to match the richness, anything lighter may be overwhelmed. If you would like to serve a fruity dessert, you’ll want to choose dessert wines with similar fruity flavours.
If you would like some personal wine suggestions or need help with how to pair wine with a certain dish, send us an email or if you want to learn more about food and wine pairings, sign up to our newsletter, check out our other blog posts, follow us on @lunzerwine Instagram account and sign up for one of our events.
I hope you enjoyed our suggestions. Pairing food and wine can be daunting at first but if done right, will reward you with a great evening of food, wine and company. Pairing food and wine, like many relationships, is personal, with the aim of creating harmony and balance.
Ps. The Marriage of Food and Wine is just one of our popular event themes. If you are interested in checking out other ideas visit our event section here https://lunzerwine.com/pages/corporate-wine-tasting