In life, we are constantly presented with a variety of options. Wine and food are no exception to this rule. How do you know which wine will best suit your meal? What about the dish that should be paired with it? Where can one find this information? Well look no further! This blog post provides an ultimate guideline for perfect meal pairing. It covers everything from the basics to more complicated aspects of food and wine pairings.
WHAT IS FOOD AND WINE PAIRING?
Food and wine pairing is the selection of compatible foods for a given beverage. Types of beverages include white, red, sparkling, fortified wines and even beers. The goal of food and wine pairing is to enhance both the flavor of the drink as well as food (if any).
Do you remember your parents telling you “Don’t eat with your mouth full!” They were teaching you a very valuable lesson – proper etiquette when eating in public. Not only should you chew with an open mouth but also refrain from talking about things that are considered socially taboo like religion or politics.
Picking up on subtle social cues will help you be better liked by those around you. It’s for this same reason that knowing how to match drinks with certain foods is also a very good idea since you will be more likely to make friends and have favorable first impressions.
There are several different views on what food and wine pairing should be. The most basic form of the theory states that red wines go with red meats while white wines go with white meats (fish, poultry). This is often referred to as “red with meat, white with fish”. It sounds simple enough but it’s wrong.
In fact, if you look at the classic textbooks, they all say the same thing about which foods should be paired with certain beverages. Decades ago, people put much less emphasis on food pairing than we do today thanks in part to modern-day chefs who have brought the issue into focus by pushing beyond traditional boundaries.
In this new age of gastronomy many chefs and sommeliers have turned the basic concepts on their head – or at least expanded upon them by applying modern techniques such as cooking over open flames, smoking foods, using ingredients that don’t exist in nature (foams, emulsions) and things along those same lines.
Red wine can now go with white fish and vice versa thanks to some of these innovative culinary tools. Of course, one has to be extremely careful when doing something like this since there is always a risk of ruining an expensive bottle of wine if you choose the wrong food to accompany it.
The best way for anyone interested in pursuing further education on this topic is through books but most importantly by eating what they cook and drinking what they serve. The more you experiment the better your palate will become at tasting and identifying things like oak, earthy notes, spiciness and so forth.
SOME GENERAL RULES THAT SHOULD HELP YOU GET STARTED IF YOU’RE NEW TO FOOD PAIRING
1. One Rule Or Multiple Rules
Some people advise sticking with one rule of thumb when choosing a wine for a specific dish (i.e., drink red wines with meat) while others suggest using your own common sense in combination with these guidelines.
Just because something is considered inappropriate today doesn’t mean it won’t be acceptable tomorrow since taste preferences vary from culture to culture and even within regions of the same country over time (i.e., the introduction of pink bubbly wines).
2. Use Your Own Taste Preferences
Use your own taste preferences as a starting point but understand that these wines will change over time with maturity. While you may be used to drinking white wines with fish now you may prefer reds when you’re older and vice versa. You should also consider buying several bottles of the same beverage so you can drink them at different times in order to compare what they look, smell and taste like fresh versus after aging for many years.
3. Don’t Be Afraid To Experiment!
The more wine and food combinations you try the better off you’ll be when it comes to making educated decisions about which ones work best together or not. There are plenty of things out there that will surprise your senses including some foods paired with bubbly drinks (such as orange slices and dark chocolate) that aren’t exactly considered standard fare.
4. Let Them Know
If you’re buying wine for a restaurant, make sure they understand what dishes will be served with them so the sommelier can help recommend something appropriate. You wouldn’t want to receive a Barolo if you’re having chicken parmesan for dinner!
5. Origination Of Food And Grapes
Stick with wines made from grapes grown in regions where the dish you’re eating originated from since this is always a good idea. For example, French wines go best with French food and Italian wines go best with Italian cuisine in general (with many exceptions of course).
But there are those out there who believe this is an old school way of thinking about things and even point to some scientific studies that have been conducted to support their point of view.
WHAT ARE THE THREE PRINCIPLES OF FOOD AND WINE PAIRING?
1. Pairing By Flavor Intensity
Match foods with wines of similar sweetness, acidity or bitterness. For example, if your seafood dish is acidic then so should be your wine to avoid one being overly dominant over the other. If you’re serving a salty and spicy dish (such as Thai food) then serve something that’s high in alcohol content (e.g., vodka cocktails) instead of a delicate tipple such as a Riesling since it won’t taste nearly as strong.
2. Matching By Texture
This principle is about choosing wines with similar mouthfeels in order to complement what you’re eating. For example, if you’ve got a creamy dish like pasta carbonara or cheese tortellini and the wine’s too sharp then it might cause your palate discomfort. When in doubt always opt for wines that are light-bodied since they’ll be the most suited to match creamy foods (e.g., Moscato d’Asti).
3. Matching By Food Families
This is another commonsense approach to food pairing where you choose wines from the same grape variety as what you’re serving (e.g., Semillon goes well with seafood dishes) but there can be an exception here and there, especially when using wines produced by different winemaking techniques such as sparkling versus still wines (yes, I know…).
WHAT’S AN IDEAL PAIRING?
The idea of ‘ideal’ pairings has been around for a long time but it’s largely a subjective matter. For example, many people think that chocolate and red wine are a good match, but others might disagree with the combination or give it a lower rating. As far as I’m concerned you need to align your preferences with popular opinion since these things change over time anyway.
If you’re looking for something different then try using white chocolate and sparkling wines because they can be surprisingly enjoyable together! I’ve also heard about some creative types who make beverages using ingredients such as M&M’s in order to add an extra dimension of novelty to their consumption experiences and have found them to be rather tasty.
WHAT ARE THE COMMON MISTAKES MADE WHEN YOU DO YOUR FOOD AND WINE PAIRING?
There are four things you need to watch out for when it comes to making good pairings:
1. The Acidity Level
The acidity level of both the food and drink needs to be similar otherwise one will overpower the other. This is a serious consideration in many cases such as with seafood since they’re generally more acidic than non-seafood dishes (e.g., chicken chili).
2. Nitrogen Gas Bubbles
Nitrogen gas bubbles can either enhance or diminish certain sensations on your palate so this needs to be considered when deciding which wines go best with oysters (since carbon dioxide tends to enhance oyster taste sensations while nitrogen has the exact opposite effect, which may turn some people off).
3. Role Of Sweetness/Acidity
Sweetness/acidity plays a huge role in pairing food and wine, so you need to be aware of its effect on your palate. For example, most people avoid pairing wines with sweet dishes (e.g., cake) because it makes the food taste harsh and acidic, which can ruin your experience if you’re not careful!
4. The Alcohol Content
The alcohol content of the beverage influences how quickly it will dehydrate your body (with stronger drinks having the greatest impact). This means that if you’re drinking something that’s high in alcohol then make sure you drink plenty of water before, during and after consumption to avoid any mild hangover symptoms the next morning.
What I’m trying to say is that there’s more than one way of achieving the perfect food and wine match so if you’re not familiar with the principles or techniques then try them out…because isn’t that what experimentation is all about? The only thing that really counts is that you enjoy yourself and treat it as an adventure.
THE IMPORTANCE OF FOOD AND WINE MATCHING
The importance of food and wine matching comes from the fact that you want to maximize your consumption experience by introducing a variety of flavors and tastes in order to give your palate something new to discover. If the wine’s not complementary with the dish, then it can overwhelm or diminish certain taste sensations which can cause discomfort because one sensation is overpowering while another has diminished.
If this continues then there’s less chance for you to enjoy the meal as much as possible so it pays off (literally) to know what you’re doing even if you don’t hold any fancy qualifications like WSET Level 3.
One thing I’d like to add is that matching wines with food isn’t always necessary but when used correctly it can enhance your enjoyment level, especially if you’re trying new things and want to experiment a little. I like to think of it as a way for me to fulfill my potential by going beyond my comfort zone and pushing the limits of what is possible, which makes life more interesting in my opinion.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE SOMEONE WHO’S PLANNING ON COOKING A DISH THAT THEY’VE NEVER MADE BEFORE BUT WANT TO PAIR WITH A CERTAIN WINE?
There are many things you can do to ensure your meal goes well but the most important thing is not to panic if something doesn’t turn out as planned. For example, if your steak comes out overcooked then simply cut off both sides (close to the bone) and serve them immediately so that they’re still relatively rare but not overcooked. You’d be surprised at how delicious this can be and it’s a great way to make the most of your ingredients.
Another important thing is to have a rough idea of what you want in terms of flavors, textures, intensity etc. even if you don’t know where you’ll end up which can help greatly when it comes down to pairing food and wine because there are so many things that need to be considered!
For example, I remember trying sea urchin for the first time with this amazing red wine from Rioja which was made from old-vine Tempranillo (which has low tannins) blended with Graciano (which contributes high levels of acidity). The combination was outstanding and brought out all kinds of delicious sensations on my that would’ve been missed otherwise.
This kind of experience really opened my eyes to the possibilities and highlighted the main lesson that you can achieve truly great things when you set your mind to it, even if it takes some trial and error. If someone is willing to experiment with food and wine, then I’d tell them not to be afraid because they have nothing to lose (except a little cash).
Sure, good wines are expensive but that doesn’t mean bad one’s taste poor or unpleasant…if anything there’s been numerous times when I’ve stumbled across something unexpectedly delicious for a low price so don’t let anyone talk you out of trying something new!
THE PERFECT MEAL/WINE PAIRING EXAMPLE
1. For Light Starter
If I was going for a light starter like white asparagus, then I’d go with a dry Gewurztraminer or Pinot Grigio. The idea is to contrast the sweetness of the dish with a wine that’s dry, so it makes for a pleasant combination rather than something that tastes watered down and bland.
In this case I would also choose something relatively low in alcohol because it’s best used as an appetizer but if you’re going for a heavier option then you can easily find wines with higher alcohol levels which pair happily with creamy dishes like brandade or scallops without overpowering them.
2. For Meaty Seafood
On the other hand, if I’m going for meaty seafood like mussels then I’d go with a medium-bodied white such as Chardonnay, Viognier or White Rioja because they have a little more body to stand up against the meatiness and richness of seafood.
Again, you want to contrast sweet with savory, so I’d look for wines that have some sort of citrus quality because it adds another level of flavor alongside the fruit and acidity. The buttery dishes like seared scallops in a rich wine sauce or brandade paired with a Chardonnay is an amazing combination!
When picking reds, again if I’m going for something lighter like carpaccio then I’d go for Pinot Noir or Gamay as they’re fairly light on tannins but still have enough structure to stand up to fatty proteins like salmon or duck.
If you’re going something richer then things such as Syrah, Barolo or Chianti are great because they’re rich enough to stand up to the meaty fish you might find in dishes like bouillabaisse and way more affordable than wines like Bordeaux.
3. For Cheeses
For cheeses I would go with something dry and acidic such as a Pinot Gris from Alsace which will help cut through any sweetness while at the same time adding its own flavor profile. A bit of an acquired taste but it works if you can handle sourness!
There’s also Sauternes and Tokaji Aszú which are both dessert wines with extremely high levels of acidity, so they work brilliantly with many cheeses. Whichever wine you choose just make sure that it isn’t too heavy to overwhelm your food and you should be fine. Never has the expression ‘this tastes like grape juice’ been more appropriate than when I’ve had wine with chocolate or cheese!
As a general rule of thumb, think about sweetness/acidity before you pair wines with rich savory dishes because it’ll either make it too acidic or too sweet so there’s nowhere for your palate to go other than being overwhelmed by flavor.
If the dish is light and lean, then try something that complements its natural flavors with strength but if the dish is meatier and richer then consider how much body the wine has because in many cases reds don’t have as much acidity which can lead to them smothering your palate along with whatever sauce might be on the plate.
TIPS ON HOW TO CREATE A PERFECT PAIRING FOR YOUR NEXT DINNER PARTY OR DATE NIGHT IN
The following is a guide on how to pair wines with different types of foods. Remember to take these tips as suggestions, not rules. If you like a pairing that we suggest here or in the book, enjoy it! If you don’t like what we suggest, that’s cool too. You should do what’s best for your taste buds and experiment with new things all the time! Without further ado, check out our guidelines below:
If you’re going for a wine pairing with chicken dishes such as parmesan chicken or lemon chicken, go with something fruity and tropical rather than a super-oaky Chardonnay or full-bodied Zinfandel. You’re looking for something with high acidity and lemon flavors such as Riesling, Gewürztraminer, or Pinot Grigio.
Unless you’re making eggs for breakfast at home, chances are you’ll be eating some variation of an omelet at a restaurant so that’s what we’ll cover here. Since the main ingredient is eggs, your best bet would be to find a wine that has subtle egg flavors in it but without the metallic taste associated with wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. We suggest going with Viura from Spain (Macabeo in other countries) which typically have notes of citrus, white flowers, and even a bit of fresh grass.
3. Spicy Foods
If you’re making Indian or Asian cuisine at home for personal use or catering it for an event, plan on serving with spicy dishes then Pinot Gris would be your best bet to go with. It’s light enough so that it won’t be overpowered by the spices, but it’ll also have some sweetness to balance out all the heat from your peppers. Also try Riesling and Gruner Veltliner from Austria which are typically drier than German Rieslings, but they pack more flavor in them as well and can handle heavy spice flavors very well.
4. Pork / Ham
If you’re going to pair wine with pork such as roasted ham or a pulled pork sandwich, stick with something fruity and off dry. You’re looking for flavors of tropical fruit like pineapple and banana that will make the pairing pop since roast ham isn’t a very flavorful meat. Try Albariño from Spain or Moscato d’Asti which is typically an Asti Spumante (fruity sparkling wine) from Italy that has flavors of pineapple in addition to light floral notes which also works well with sweet meats such as honey glazed ham.
5. Grilled Salmon
There’s nothing wrong with serving your salmon dish at home with white wines but some people don’t want to pass up on their favorite reds just yet so here we go! If you plan on having grilled salmon for dinner, then Pinot Noir would be the best pairing. The same rules apply for Pinot Noir as they do with red meat dishes such as steak and lamb chops, look for fruit flavors in the wine to compliment the flavors of your fish.
For those of you who don’t eat raw fish but still love sashimi too much to let it go (I’m talking about myself here), sake is a perfect match! A dry sake pairs very well with sushi because it helps cleanse your palate from all that rice, you’re devouring plus it’ll give you another reason to drink sake which is good news if you’re already into drinking this Japanese beverage anyway. Also try Gewürztraminer since it has a lot of floral flavors that play nicely with delicate fish flavors.
7. Smoked Salmon
If you plan on serving smoked salmon or lox at your event, then go with something light and aromatic like a Pinot Blanc. It’s not too oaky but it also isn’t too dry, so it’ll work great with the smoky flavors of the fish without overwhelming your palate. If Pinot Blanc is out of stock, try Riesling since it works well with smoked foods as well and has lighter acidity compared to other wines which will allow for easy pairing with creamy things such as cream cheese or scrambled eggs.
If you’re planning on making seafood dishes such as clam chowder in a bread bowl, mussels, or any carby dish that includes clams or oysters then Albariño is the wine you’ll want to go with. It has flavors of grapefruit in addition to some salt and minerals that works well with seafood.
If you’re going to be serving up a big breakfast for dinner, bacon will no doubt fit right into this menu! This fatty cured meat pairs best with sweet wines such as Moscato d’Asti or Orange Muscat which have flavors of orange marmalade or honey respectively. In fact, those are pretty much the same wines we suggested pairing with pork so they should pair well here too!
10. Spicy Sausage
Similar to spicy foods mentioned earlier, choose something off-dry like Riesling from Germany where it’s typically sweeter than wines from other countries. It’ll work well with spicy food as well as your sausage since the sweetness in the wine will help cut through all that spice and fat on your sausage for a balanced pairing!
For those of you who prefer to serve some heartier dishes for brunch, quiches are great choices, and they pair very well with Chardonnay. Since it’s not too acidic or fruity, it won’t be too bold of a flavor but still has enough body to stand up against the intense flavors of cheese and cream in a quiche. Just like with cooking chicken, try using butter (unsalted) while baking your crust to get more depth out of your pairing!
TO WRAP IT UP
The perfect meal is a balance between the food and wine that you pair together. This ultimate guide for pairing up your next dinner will give you all of the information needed to make an unforgettable dining experience with friends or family members.
It’s time to explore new tastes, flavors, textures and smells in order to create something unique! We hope this article has helped provide some insight into how best to enjoy yourself at one of life’s great pleasures – eating out!