If you enjoy the experience of food as much as the taste, it is likely that you already have a good understanding of the importance of pairing it with wine. The process of doing so is centuries old, as wine was first considered a staple with every meal as opposed to a more casual sipping experience in a bar. Nevertheless, while many are familiar with the basics, less have developed the foundational knowledge of varietals or why one, such as a sommelier, would choose pairings in a certain fashion. Fear not, however, that’s the purpose of this blog.
By now you probably know the basics: pair white wine with white meats, such as fish and chicken, and red wine with red meats, like lamb and beef. That’s a great place to start. It will help you narrow down your options early on and make the process of selecting a great bottle easier. However, unless you plan on just eating your meat as is, the way your meal is prepared (i.e. the seasonings, marinade and/or sauce) will further determine your pairing options.
For example, the flavor of herb roasted chicken is different than poached chicken, and barbecue chicken becomes more complex with added sauce. So, it’s important to understand the nuances of flavors in your meal before selecting the beverage. The purpose of such is complement not to overpower or compete.
The science behind pairing can be best understood by breaking down the components of the flavor palate. There’s fat, acid, salt, sweet, and spicy. Foods that provide a fatty texture in the mouth, such as cheese, steak, or the roasted chicken, benefit from an acidic wine. Similarly, foods high in acid, such as lemon or vinegar, call for wine that’s equally acidic so that it isn’t overpowered. Bitter wines pair well with sweet foods for balance of both flavors. Madeline Puckett over at Wine Folly created this chart below to help you better understand how to mix and match.
Lastly, salty foods seem to be a conundrum for some. It makes bitter wines more bitter and can dull others. Sparkling and/or dessert wines are perfect for such foods and flavors. The carbonation in sparklers, like beer, can clean the palate and provide and enhance flavors. For dessert wines, the understanding is that salt further highlights sweetness, so it is, once again, about balance.
For more ideas, check out my latest presentation on Summer Food & Wine Pairings. Cheers!