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Wine Pairing Basics

Traditionally, red wine with meat and white with fish are no longer flexible enough to accommodate the multi-cultural taste influences that modern cuisine reflects. Common sense dictates that every wine experience should start with taste...

A good food and wine pairing will make the wine and food both taste better. Who doesn’t want that? There’s an abundance of wines that can complement a dish. It’s up to you to decide what flavours you want to emphasize. But don’t worry, finding the perfect wine with a dish is easy if you know the food and wine pairing basics. 

The first is to identify the main components of the food and match them with the components of the wine. Is the dish heavy or light? spicy or mild? Is it sweet? sour? salty? fatty? All these elements will determine what wine will make the best match. As for the wine, is it full or light bodied? high or low in acidity? fruity or earthy?

More and more of us are entertaining at home. With this in mind, we find ourselves more willing to experiment with new wines and match the dishes we’ve made with wines that will enhance their flavours and make our meals exciting. “What goes best with…? Keep in mind that these are just guidelines. They should give you a better sense of direction, but shouldn’t supersede your personal preferences or the desire to experiment. 

There’s no point in drinking a wine that you don’t like even if it is the perfect pairing. Don’t like red wine? Then don’t drink red! You don’t have to even when you’re having a steak. You can still find a good match. If you take nothing else away from this guide to food and wine basics, remember this! You can have red wine with fish and you can have white wine with steak; the key is balance. 

Wine and food need to be in balance. This applies to both the weight of the wine and food as well as the quality. Essentially, heavy dishes should be served with heavy wines and light dishes with light wines. Easy enough. Steaks with full bodied reds. Salads with light bodied whites. You can also have a steak with a full bodied white and a salad with a light bodied red. The key is to not let the wine overtake the food or the food overtake the wine. If the wine is too light, you’ll barely taste it. If the wine is too heavy, you won’t taste the food.

Match similar flavours or textures, rich with rich, etc. Use contrasts to offset and enhance separate flavours. Always match the wine with the strongest flavouring ingredient in the dish so that one doesn’t overpower the other. Fatty, greasy or salty dishes need a dry wine with a good crisp acidity to cleanse the palate. When talking about food and wine pairing basics it seems that we stop at the protein; red meat, red wine, white meat, white wine. But there’s more to food than the protein. Chicken with a cream sauce and chicken with a tomato sauce pair perfectly with different wines. The cream sauce begs for a full bodied creamy white wine, whereas a tomato sauce is begging for an acidic red. A sauce can completely change the flavor profile of the dish, so don’t forget it when pairing.

Tannins are attracted to the protein in our saliva and will attach there and dry out our mouth and cheeks. If an alternative protein is available, like meat or cheese, the tannins will go there. The reason that steak and Cabernet go together is because the tannins bind with the protein from the steak, acting as a buffer between the tannins and your cheek. This makes the wine seem smoother and the meat seem more tender. Fatty meats can handle even more tannin. 

Sweet wines, not necessarily dessert wines, but off dry, fruit forward wines are great with spicy food. The sweetness will coat the palate and let the spice flavor come forward instead of the heat. Let the food shine without overwhelming the senses. 

Wine should be sweeter than the food. This is essentially the same concept as above but this rule generally applies to eating dessert. I feel this is one of the food and wine pairing basics that is too often confused. You have to be very careful that the chocolate you’re choosing is bitter and the wine you’re choosing is very fruity. Think of it this way, a big bite of a syrupy cake will block all of our sweet receptors. Following it up with a dry wine will make the wine taste bitter, flat and frankly awful. A sweeter wine holds up against the sweetness in the dessert and creates a more harmonious pairing. 

In order to cut through a fatty dish, pair it with a wine with lots of acidity. Fat adds balance to the acidity in a wine and brings the flavours into harmony. Lamb is one of the fattiest meats and pairs well with a high acidity reds like Tempranillo or Barolo. Keep in mind that fatty dishes are heavier and need a wine with body and higher alcohol. Fried foods also benefit from more acidic wines. This is perfectly proven by arguably the greatest pairing of all time: Champagne and Fish & Chips.

Wine pairings, like condiments, impart a specific flavor, enhance flavor, or complement a dish. You can just match your wine to your condiment. The original food and wine pairing basics tip was formed out of access to wine. If it grows together, it goes together. Traditional dishes throughout the old world all have their perfect match. The wine that is made in each region is styled to match the food of the same region. Even in the new world, it’s not a coincidence that Argentina produces some of the world’s great beef and they’ve chosen to produce Malbec. But you don’t need to be this strict. This is an unofficial rule of food and wine pairing basics but still an essential one.

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