Pairing wine with food is a minefield for some, finding the perfect match is one of those somewhat pithy topics on which opinion can be very often divided and many people are simply baffled by.
If ‘white with fish’ and ‘red with meat’ is about as good as it gets for you then here are the Inspiring Wines team top 5 rules to help you go all cupid on your dinner and find it the perfect match.
Like ‘First Dates’ on a plate! (Other television dating shows are available)
If you break into a sweat in the wine aisle or you are looking to knock it out of the park at your next late supper use these 5 golden rules and get matching:
Rule #1: Buy a wine you know you will like!
I know, I know, its sounds ridiculously obvious, but you should always bear in mind that just like food, enjoyment of wine is all about taste, your taste specifically. And consequently it is completely subjective, that is why the evil that is Marmite can exist in a civilised world!
Look at it the other way around, if you despise liver for example, I know I do, even a bottle of 1961 Pétrus isn’t going to make it taste any better to you. Equally a wine you loathe just because someone has recommended a pairing isn’t magically going to taste lovely because it does to someone else. Everyone is different.
What you should never do is feel embarrassed at your choice of wine or feel it is not somehow sophisticated or highbrow enough, that’s nonsense. We are all about wine adventures here at Inspiring Wines and if want to pair a bottle of White Zin with a Chateaubriand then you go ahead and live the dream. If a dry, fresh Riesling and a twiglet is your puppy, knock yourself out! Nothing is set in stone, it isn’t a crime to try new flavours and you never know you might come up with something that really works.
That said, as much as we are all about being adventurous with wine selections there is some science involved here that should, as well as personal taste, be taken into consideration:
Rule #2. Biology – Know your gob!
Why does Marmite exist? Because some people love it, I can’t for a moment imagine why but there you are, a perfect example of different palates liking different things. (I’ll stop ranting on about Marmite now!)
We’ve all heard of someone being described as having a ‘sweet tooth’, and we know there is no such thing, (unless you are talking about those pink foam teeth you used to get in the local sweet shop) but some are drawn more to sweet than savoury, that’s a fact.
You could argue that is purely due to the basic human instinct to stock up on high energy foods but that’s a discussion for another day.
If you were do a straw poll of your friends you’ll get mixed bag of preferences, some will love a fruity white, some adore a full bodied red and there will likely be various other preferences thrown in there too.
So put simply people have different tastes. These preference could be down to genes, the make-up of your tongue or more precisely the number of taste buds on your palate. These taste buds detect salt, sweet, acidity, bitter and that one that is always difficult to pin down ‘umami’ or savoury. The amount and location of buds vary massively between individuals and consequently we all ‘taste’ very differently.
But the objective here is to be at one with your own palate, get to know your own taste, don’t force combinations on yourself you’ve read or been told work well if they simply don’t work well for you and make you feel your ability to taste is lacking in some way because you just don’t get it. It’s probably the result of physiology.
Rule #3. Perception – How it affects taste
Bite into a chilli and then try to taste something, you’re lucky if you can feel your lips for half an hour let alone actually taste anything. But whatever you taste hasn’t changed it’s your perception of it that has changed. How many times in the morning do you grab a last glug of coffee on your way out of the door straight after cleaning your teeth and wince at the taste, the coffee hasn’t changed but now it tastes like someone has washed their socks in it.
When tasting a wine immediately after sampling a food high in either salt, acidity, sugar, fat or chilli your perception is that it tastes different. In general terms if a wine seems softer, sweeter or more fruity it is believed to be a good pairing.
To illustrate this here is a little experiment I found on the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (WSET) website, do try this at home (white coat and safety goggles are optional):
Prepare some salt, lemon and a piece of salty mature cheese on a plate. Grab yourself a glass of young Chianti Classico or any wine that has refreshing high acidity and high tannin (that’s the bitter drying part of red wine). Have a sip of the wine and concentrate on its astringency and bitterness. Put some of the lemon juice and salt on your tongue and have a chew – when you re-try the wine now it will be softer, fruiter and much smoother. Do the same with a bite of the salty cheddar cheese and have another go. The fat in the cheese will make the wine seem even smoother.
This describes the ‘holy trinity’ of wine pairing; salt, acidity and fat, having these on your palate before an acidic, astringent and tannic wine will almost always help soften it up.
Rule #4. Know what your eating
Sounds simple but great wine pairings can be achieved by understanding the basic components of what you are eating.
The classics like a big red wine, Barolo for example and a juicy steak will work for most people because of the combination of salt and fat smooths the tannin and acidity of the wine. And let’s face it who doesn’t like a Barolo?
Incidentally if you are looking for a cheaper alternative to Barolo, look at Barbaresco, just a few towns over and producing some exceptional wines.
Mussels or other shell fish are amazing with Albariño or a dry Sparkling Wine purely because the high acidity of the wine is softened by the citrus or vinegar which is typically served with the seafood. Take a simple thing like tartare sauce, often served with fish, one of it’s primary constituents is vinegar so it always helps to know what the key ingredients of a dish are. Especially sauces, a strong pepper or spicy sauce on a steak can open up a number of other reds for selection aside from our Barolo mentioned above purely because of the spice and pepper in the sauce.
Keeping it simple, salty and fatty will soften tannic high alcohol wines and citrus or vinegar will soften acidic dry wines.
Chilli based dishes can be a touch more of a challenge however, there tend to be many levels of flavour involved in Asian food especially. As a basic rule it’s best to aim for lower tannins or wines that are less acidic and avoid oak and high alcohol. Fruity of dry wines can work well as can aromatic or off-dry wines. Riesling is a great one to try for example with a Thai curry. You can also try to pair spice with spice, Malbec or Syrah can both work well with Asian dishes, go for wines that are working the spice.
Or you can just crack open a nice cold beer! It’s difficult to beat an ice cold Tsingtao with a spicy Pad Thai!
Rule # 5. If you are ever in doubt, stick to rule number 1!
So there is some science involved here, stick to the basics and you can’t go wrong but really it’s down to personal taste, no efforts in trying to create the perfect match is going to change wine or food from something you hate to something you love.
Here are some of the Inspiring Wines team favourite matches to use as a guideline. Might help you choose your wine for the weekend:
- Champagne is great with salt (Bolly and pork scratchings anyone?)
- Riesling works with both sweet and spice
- Sauvignon blanc always works well with citrus
- Pinot Gris with light white fish and Chardonnay or Viognier with rich fatty fish
- Dry White or Rosé with rich cheese
- Malbec can work well with sweet spicy barbecue
- Bold Zinfandel with pate and Syrah with spice and all things nice
- Pinot Noir with earthy or umami flavours and Cabernet with fatty meats
If you need any help making a selection for a meal you are having, drop us a line, we would be happy to offer our suggestions.
Written by Dean Spencer – Director – Inspiring Wines
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