Wine has been an integral part of dining for years, not just because it serves as a quencher, but because the right wines can enhance a meal’s flavors. Wine clears the palate and can bring flavors to the forefront, while counteracting strongly salty or bitter tastes. It's no surprise that some of the best food in the world is in some of the finest wine growing areas, where wine is just as prevalent during cooking as it is in the glass.
Just as wine can enhance the many flavors of foods, the wrong wine pairing can also make foods taste metallic, bitter and sometimes overly sweet. There is no “wrong wine,” but when certain foods and wines are paired that shouldn’t be, the result in the mouth can be unpleasant. With that said, I’ve put together basic guidelines that can help you maximize your enjoyment of food and wine. Still, the most important aspect of food and wine pairing is to enjoy your favorite wines with your favorite foods
First, match the weight and texture of food to the weight & texture of wine. For example, light bodied white wines like Pinot Grigio or Italy’s Verdicchio pairs wonderfully with a light-bodied fish such as Sole or Mahi Mahi with mild flavors. A fuller-bodied, creamy white wine like Chardonnay is excellent with a heavier-bodied fish like Salmon.
Another important aspect is to balance the intensity of flavors in food and wine, to offset varying flavor profiles. A mildly flavored food, like turkey, pairs well with milder and lighter-bodied wines, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Beaujolais. Foods with a deeper intensity such as beef or game however, pair better with a richer, full wine like Cabernet Sauvignon, for example. Remember if you have a delicately flavored dish you don’t want to pair it with a wine that has very, strong intense flavors. And the opposite is also true. For foods that have bold flavors or spices, you need a bold wine that can stand up to it.
The old thought that you can’t pair red wine with fish is not true. You can pair red wine with fish but you do have to be careful. Lighter, less tannic red wines, such as Pinot Noir or Gamay Noir (the grape used to make Beaujolais), are better with fish. If you pair a heavier, highly tannic red, such as Cabernet Sauvignon or Nebbiolo, with fish, you may experience a metallic taste in the mouth.
Flavors are combinations of tastes and aromas, and food and wine pairings can be fine-tuned, by matching those same flavors. For example, foods that may include subtle nuances of herbs, such as rosemary or thyme, would pair beautifully with a wine that carries those same herbal notes – in this case a California Sauvignon Blanc for white or French Cabernet Franc for red. Surprising combinations can be startlingly good as well, such as pairing a tangy sauce with a sweet dessert; so don't be afraid to experiment with counterpart flavors too. For instance a sweet Riesling is a great match for spicy Asian cuisine. The sweetness in Riesling will cool down the spiciness in the food.
The secret to successful food and wine matching is to get straight to tasting. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Take note of the ingredients and hone in on a wine to suit. Try a wine on its own before trying it with food. Then you will be able to tell more easily if it pairs well with a dish. You'll always have your favorites, and what's even more exciting is knowing that they all have a place at the table.
Photo by Heidi Farmer Piccerelli