Having a dinner party and stressing about what wine to have with what dishes? Not sure where to start? Does it feel like a quest into the unknown? Well the answer lies here. You do need a bit of knowledge and, like everything in life, it’s much easier when you know how plus, once you do, you can experiment and have some fun!
Food can interact with wine and vice versa although food is inclined to have the greater effect. Get it right and it can be spectacular, yet get it wrong and it can be ghastly. Many are of the opinion that red meat means you must serve red wine and white meat with white wine. Sometimes that is right, but not always.
Successful food and wine pairing does include matching the intensity of flavours, yet more importantly, you need to consider the individual components of the food and wine i.e. how much sugar is there, what about the oil/fat, acid, salt etc. The more components, the more elements you have to weigh up and the more complicated the challenge becomes. Don’t make it too simple though as it can become a bit one dimensional overall, so somewhere in between is good to start with!
Firstly what do you need to consider? Each and every one of us has our own likes and dislikes in flavours, textures and smells in the foods and drinks we consume. We can go out for dinner with a large group and select different starters, main courses and deserts so, whilst our tastes vary, typically there will be ‘crossovers’ in our choices. So for food and wine pairings, individual preferences do need to be taken into account.
Secondly, what we have just eaten or drunk can have an impact too. If you’ve ever had orange juice quickly after brushing your teeth, you’ll have experienced how bitter it becomes once mixed with minty toothpaste, or perhaps after indulging in some chocolate your mouth has felt ‘coated’ and your sense of taste spoiled.
Sweetness in food
Sweetness increases the perception of bitterness (from tannins or oak), astringency, acidity and alcohol, yet decreases body, sweetness and fruitiness in a wine. Avoid: dry wines as they will lose their fruit and seem unpleasantly acidic. Target: a wine with a sugar level the same or higher than the food.
Umami (savoury taste) in food
Same as sweetness in food e.g. increases the perception of bitterness, astringency, acidity and alcohol, yet decreases body, sweetness and fruitiness in a wine. Rich umami foods with minimal amounts of salt e.g. asparagus, eggs, ripe soft cheeses and mushrooms, can be a real challenge to pair as it can make a wine seem bitter and unbalanced. Avoid: low tannic red wines or oaked white wines. Target: umami foods, which also have a good salt and acid content, e.g. smoked or cured meats (or seafood) and hard cheeses, as they help counteract the bitterness and astringency of a wine and help balance it.
Acidity in food
Acidity plays an important role in food and wine matching as it can cut through fatty, rich and oily foods. It increases the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness, yet decreases the acidity of a wine. Avoid: low acid wines (generally hotter wine regions) with high acid food as it will make the wine seem flabby. Target: high acid wines (cooler wine regions and a lot of Italian wines have high acid) with high acid food as the acidity level will reduce and will create a better balance, whilst boosting the fruit.
Salt in food
Like acidity, salt is another key element in food and wine matching as it can soften more problematic components e.g. tannin. It increases the perception of body, whilst decreasing astringency, bitterness and acidity. Avoid: low acid wines with high acid food as it will make the wine seem flabby. Target: high acid wines with high acid food as the acidity level will reduce and create a better balance.
Chilli/Heat in food
Heat in food intensifies a wine’s perception of bitterness, astringency, acidity and alcohol, whilst reducing the body, richness, sweetness and fruitiness. Avoid: high abv (alcohol by volume) %. Target: consider white wines or red wines with lower tannin as well as wines with good fruit and sweetness levels.
Tried and tested? If this is sounding a tad too much to absorb and consider then you can’t go too wrong with just sticking to the general ‘tried and tested’ but remember you need to remember to consider all the elements within the dish e.g. sauces, method of cooking etc.
- Oysters: Muscadet, Chablis & Champagne
- Smoked Salmon: Champagne
- Olives or Lobster Bisque or Consomme: Fino/Manzanilla Sherry
- Curry’s: uncomplicated lightly flavoured and unoaked white wines.
- Goat’s cheese: Sancerre (Loire valley Sauvignon Blanc)
- Stilton: Port
- Foie gras: Sauternes (Bordeaux sweet wine) or Tokaji (Hungarian sweet wine)
- Lamb: red Bordeaux
- Lobster: Chardonnay
- Duck, Goose, Pheasant: Pinot Noir
- Paella: Rioja
- Lightly flavoured desserts: intensely sweet wines
- Sweet and salty combinations: Port and Stilton, sweet wines & blue cheeses
- Bitter foods: consider white wines or red wines with lower tannin
So have some fun and enjoy a bit of experimentation on your own personal holy grail!