There are few things more pleasurable than an excellent pairing of food and wine. Correctly paired food and wine can turn a regular meal into a five-star dining experience. Pairing food and wine does not have to be reserved for special occasions. If one knows which wines pair best with which entrees, a successful gustatory marriage can happen nightly. The science behind food and wine pairings is not as difficult as it might seem. With a little practice, anyone can pair the perfect wine with the perfect food.
Wine Pairing History
Wine dates back centuries, and it is unclear when food and wine pairing became a culinary art form. Initially, the pairing of food and wine occurred out of necessity. Wine became a beverage staple because it was cleaner than the water in many areas throughout world. Wine’s pairing with food was based upon region; the region’s cuisine was enjoyed with the region’s wine. For example, a classic pairing today, red wine with lamb dishes, came about simply because lamb was a major food staple in many of Europe’s red wine regions.
Modern food and wine pairing in cuisine is a relatively new culinary tradition, and it stems from the 1980s in the United States. Today, modern wine pairing is a science, and consumers will find numerous online and print media discussing the perfect combinations of food and wine. When eating at a fine-dining establishment, consumers are aided in determining the perfect wine to compliment their meal of choice by enlisting the restaurant’s sommelier, an expert in how food and wine flavors benefit each other for maximum culinary enjoyment.
Wine Pairing Process
One might wonder why food and wine pairing has been growing in popularity over the past 30 years. The primary reason why is because experts are discovering that there actually is something behind the perfect glass of wine with certain types of foods. Wine has several properties, each of which interacts with the foods people eat and their own taste buds. Science actually supports food and wine pairing and the differences in which types of wine match best with which types of food.
The primary component in food and wine pairing is the weight of the wine. Light wines, such as whites, pair nicely with light dishes. Heavy wines, such as reds, pair nicely with heavy dishes. It is not considered a complimentary pairing to drink a light white wine with a rich and heavy dish, for example, as the wine and food’s weights do not match. Rather than complement each other, they combat each other.
Other properties taken into pairing consideration are acidity, alcohol, bitterness, bridge ingredients, and sweetness. Acidity increases one’s perception of the food’s flavor; it produces saliva and tantalizes one’s appetite. Alcohol is just as its name suggests: the amount of alcohol found in the wine varietal. Wines with a higher level of alcohol are heavier. Tannins found in wine create bitterness, and that bitterness matches well with fatty foods that soften the bite of the wine. Bridge ingredients are ingredients in the food that compliment perceived flavors in a specific varietal. A wine’s level of sweetness is derived from the amount of natural sugars found in the vintage, and a sweet wine can help balance out a hot dish.
Pairing with Lighter Whites
It becomes easier to understand how the physical properties of the wine, and the food, for that matter, complement each other when one looks at some actual recommended pairings. For example, Chablis, Champagne and sparkling wine, Riesling, and Sauvignon Blanc are considered light white wines. Light yet pungent cheeses, such as feta, Gouda, and Havarti, match well with light whites. Chicken, duck, turkey, and seafood match well with light whites. Sweet desserts complement sparkling sweet dessert wines nicely, and bridge ingredients between the wine and food could include apple, citrus, and tarragon.
Pairing with Medium to Heavy Whites
Chardonnay is likely the most popular medium to heavy white. One will also find White Bordeaux and White Burgundy in this weight classification, as well as Sauvignon Blanc provided that it is oaked during fermentation. Much like with lighter wines, Gouda cheese matches nicely with medium to heavy whites. Chicken also pairs well, as do pork, veal, and seafood. One might note that many Italian restaurants recommend a medium to heavy white alongside cream and pesto sauces because the two complement each other nicely. This makes sense, as bridge ingredients include basil, sesame, and tarragon.
Pairing with Lighter Reds
Beaujolais, Dolcetto, and certain pinot noir varietals are considered lighter reds. With a red, one looks for slightly weightier food choices to match with the weight of the wine. Brie and goat cheese match well, as do filet mignon, lamb, and certain sausages. When looking to match seafood with light reds, one will do well with heavier fish, such as orange roughy or tuna. While red wines aren’t necessarily considered dessert wines, lighter reds compliment creme brul and sweeter chocolates, such as white chocolate, nicely. Bridge ingredients include cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg.
Pairing with Medium Reds
Wines considered medium red are a weightier pinot noir, Burgundy, Chianti, Merlot, and Zinfandel. Again, one looks for a weightier food choice to match well with the heavier wine. For example, fattier cheeses, such as Roquefort and sharp cheddar, match well with a medium red wine. Heavier meats and seafood, like game meats, steak, spicy sausage, salmon, and swordfish, go well with a medium red. For dessert, consider something with berries or dark chocolate. Nutmeg, oregano, and sage are considered favorable bridge ingredients to medium reds.
Pairing with Heavier Reds
Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, and Syrah sit within the heavier red wine category, and although these wines are the weightiest, the food pairings are very similar to medium red wines. Cheddar and Gorgonzola cheese work well with heavy reds, as do red meat, venison, shark, and tuna. Desserts should be on the spicy side, such as a slice of carrot or spice cake, and an espresso-flavored gelato or ice cream will taste fantastic alongside a heavy red wine. Bridge ingredients that match nicely with heavy reds are also spicy, including Cajun and salsa spices, nutmeg, pepper, and rosemary.