It is important that every diner knows how best to complement their food with a nice wine. Whether you are having a medium rare steak or shrimp pasta, choosing the best wine for your meal is very important. There is a wealth of knowledge all over the internet describing how this should be done, so this article is a condensed and simplified version seeking to inform readers about pairing food with wine and vice versa. Therefore, by the end of this article, you will definitely have an idea of what food and wine combination you will be trying at your next dinner!
The “Science” Behind Food and Wine Pairing
So.. .it is not really a science. The first thing to note about wine and food pairing is that although there is a bit of a “technical” aspect to it, it is ultimately down to individual taste and what works best for each individual. Pairing is a decision on which wine will bring out the best in a particular food and vice versa. One does not want the food to dominate the wine to the extent that you cannot enjoy the unique flavor and similarly one does not want the wine to overpower the food. Here are a few simple rules to help you pair your food with your wine:
- Firstly, drink what you like.
- Think about the dominant characteristics of your meal. That is, is it mild or flavorful, fatty or lean; rich or acidic?
- After deciding on these characteristics, select a wine that will keep the flavors in balance. For example, match mild foods with mild wines, and similarly flavorful foods with big, flavorful wines. Also, match acidic foods with acidic wines (more on this in the next section).
- When in doubt about any of the above steps, match the type of food with the type of wine, for example, Italian dinners always go best with Italian wines.
These are the four basic steps involved in wine and food pairing. In the following section, we will look at a few elements in the characteristics of food and how they combine with different types of wines.
The Six Elements of Food and Wine Pairing
- The Fat Element – Wine does not contain fat, therefore, when pairing wines with fatty foods, the wine must balance the fat with acid or match the richness of the food with alcohol.
- The Acid Element – the acidity of the wine must at least be equal to the acidity in the food.
- The Salt Element – Food that is generally salty tends to limit wine choices as it can make most wines taste bitter and less fruity. The best wines to pair with salty foods are sparkling wines. These have a touch of sweetness that makes them ideal for pairing with salty foods.
- The Sweetness Element – it was stated above that the wines must match the specific element in the food almost equally. However, there is an exception to that rule with sweet foods such as dessert. When pairing wines with dessert, the wine MUST taste sweeter than the dessert.
- The Bitterness Element – As strange as it sounds, bitter wines and bitter foods have the exact opposite of the sweetness element …i.e a wine that matches the bitterness of the food makes for a good pairing.
- The Texture Element – As stated in the previous section, light foods go best with light wine and heavy foods with heavy wines.
Thus, there seems to be one overwhelming rule about pairing wines and food – one must match the dominating flavors stride for stride, except for sweet food!
Wine and Cheese Pairings
For those informal yet elegant cocktail limes, wine and cheese is a popular culinary delight served. However, as with other food, there are factors that need to be taken into consideration, specifically the category of cheese you want to serve. Cheese can be divided into four main categories:
- Bloomy – creamy, decadent cheeses with a soft rind. These cheeses tend to pair well with white wines such as Chardonnay and Champagne and other Sparkling Wines.
- Hard – stiff cheeses (often sharp and/or salty). These cheeses tend to go well with red wines such as Zinfandel, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
- Blue – pungent, salty cheeses with a blue tinge. Sweet white wines such as Port and Riesling pair well with blue cheeses.
- Fresh – soft cheeses that can be used as a spread; can be tangy or mild. Light white wines such as Pinot Grigio and Sauvignon Blanc are great with fresh cheeses.
After ascertaining the category the cheese belongs to, you must then decide whether you want a wine that complements the flavor or contrasts it. You must get a good sense of the taste of the cheese, first by itself and then with the wine to see how they go together. Many experts in the field of cheese and wine pairings note that white wine pairs better with cheese, but a light red wine (especially in the case of hard cheeses) can work also.
Popular Wines and their Ideal Food Pairing
The above sections provided some general cues for food and wine pairings. However, if you are looking for something more specific, you can refer to the food and wine pairing chart below, which provides some great detail into food and wine pairing.
Despite this wealth of information however, each individual must decide for himself/herself what works best for them. The only way that you can know this is through lots of experimentation. These rules are very helpful, but one must ultimately decide on which unique pairings of food and wine best suits their individual taste.
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