Pairing Food & Wine
True or False: White wine is to be drunk with white meats and fish, red wine goes with beef, and sweet wines go with desserts, period, and to do it any other way is courting a visit from the Wine Police.
The answer is False, but the truth is that until a couple decades ago this is how people decided what to drink with dinner. Thankfully, our minds have broadened. The current thinking is that since food can be every bit as complex as wine, the options for creating rich pairings are staggering. And it cannot be stressed enough:
a successful pairing is one that you find pleasing — maybe nobody else on the planet likes Champagne with liverwurst, but you happen to find the combination absolutely transporting.
If there is a rule of thumb it would be either to go for complementary flavors or flavors that contrast. For example, a dish with citrus would be complemented by a fruity wine; a hearty stew would go well with a full-bodied wine; and a delicately flavored dish, such as poached sole, would be in good company with a dry, crisp wine. Whereas a rich cream sauce would contrast nicely with a highly acidic dry wine; and a simple snack of bread and cheese would turn positively ambrosial when paired with a complex full-bodied red. The best advice of all is to experiment, open-mindedly, and frequently.
What follows are some truths about how wine can react with food:
- A wine high in tannins (Bordeaux, for instance) mated with a food high in tannins (like walnuts) will render the wine almost undrinkably dry and astringent.
- Protein tends to calm tannins, so a very tannic wine might be rendered glorious when enjoyed with rare beef.
- Delicate foods - veal, or filet of sole for example - will be overwhelmed by a full-bodied red wine. By the same token, a hearty lasagna will virtually cancel out a dry, medium-bodied Sauvignon Blanc.
- A wine can add its primary flavor to a dish, giving food a layer it didn't start out with.
- Some wine and food combinations result in a flavor that was not present in either one and is not meant to be, metal for instance. Try white turkey meat with red Bordeaux if you doubt this.
- Some times it's as though this wine has been searching all its life for this food and fireworks ensue.
- Tannic wines make sweet foods taste less sweet; salty foods emphasize tannin.
- Salty foods mute the sweetness and enhance the fruitiness of a sweet wine.
- Wines that are high in acid taste less acidic with salty or sweet food; acidic wines also can offset oily foods.
Remember - any combination you enjoy is a good combination!