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Posted by Ted Liberti on 05/10 at 12:21 PM
Most wines are produced as an accompaniment to food, and there are many established guidelines for matching wine with food successfully. Originally, wine styles evolved to complement the cuisine of a region, so this is often a good starting point for finding a good wine and food combination. There is no single choice of wine to serve with a certain dish, but some are definitely a better match than others.
Some Basic Considerations
To achieve the best match, it is necessary to analyze the basic components in both the wine and the food. Try to balance these so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other. The main elements to consider are:
- Match the weight/richness of the food and the body of the wine
- Match the flavor intensity of the food and the flavor intensity of the wine
- Match acidic foods with high-acid wines
- Match sweet foods with sweet wines
- Avoid combining oily or very salty foods with high-tannin red wines
Weight/Richness of the Food and the Wine
The first and most important element to consider is matching the weight of the food with that of the wine. Rich heavyweight foods, like game, roast meats and red meat casseroles, need a full-bodied wine. Powerful red wines are often the favored choice, although it is the body of the wine which is the most important consideration rather than its color or flavor. For many meat dishes, a rich full-bodied white wine is a better match than a lighter red wine. Lighter food, such as plain white meat or fish, is complemented by more delicate wine. Although white wines are the normal choice, light-bodied, low-tannin red wines can also be successful.
Always remember the contribution of the sauce. A rich creamy sauce will need a wine of sufficient body to match the food and flavors that will complement the smooth, creamy, buttery taste.
Flavor Intensity of the Food and the Wine
After weight, the next most important element to consider is flavor and it’s power. Flavor intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same. Think of a food that has a lot of weight but is low in flavor, say a plate of plain boiled potatoes or plain boiled rice; both are heavy in weight but light in flavor. At the other end of the scale think of a plate of raw, thinly sliced red or green peppers; these are high in flavor but light in weight. Wines can be the same. Riesling, for example, makes a lightweight wine that is intensely flavored, while Chardonnay makes full-bodied, heavyweight wines that can be low in flavor. Delicate wines and strong flavored foods do not match. It is worth considering the way the food has been cooked. If a food is cooked by a moist, gentle method such as steaming, it will require a lighter-flavored wine than a food that is roasted. Those types of dishes would require a wine that is fuller-bodied and more robust in flavor because the method of cooking adds intensity of flavors to the food. A slow-cooked dish that has been braised or stewed will be weightier and need intensely flavored wines because the food’s flavors have been more concentrated by the cooking method.
Acidity in the Food and the Wine
Sour flavors in food make wines taste less acidic, and therefore less vibrant and refreshing. For this reason, any acidity found in the food should be matched by acidity in the accompanying wines. Acidity is something we rarely think about in food. Tomatoes, lemons, pineapples, apples and vinegar are all high in acidity. One of the characteristics of Italian red wines is their noticeable acidity. This is because much of Italian cuisine is dominated by two ingredients – tomatoes and olive oil – and other acidic ingredients such as lemons, vinegar (balsamic) and wine. So wines that go with Italian food need high acidity. Vinaigrette is an example of acidity being added to a dish. The oil needs to be cut by the sharpness of acidity, so when making vinaigrette you blend olive oil and vinegar together. Dishes dominated by tart acidic flavors, like lemon, lime or vinegar, can be difficult and require care when matching as they will overpower many wines.
Sweetness in the Food and the Wine
Dry wines can seem tart and over-acidic when consumed with any food with a degree of sweetness. Sweet food is best with wine which has a similar or greater degree of sweetness; the sweeter the food, the sweeter the wine needs to be. Late-harvest wines, especially botrytis-affected wines, and sweet Muscat-based wines are the ideal choice for desserts.
Oil, Salt and Tannins
Tannin, in combination with oily fish, can result in an unpleasant metallic taste so the general recommendation is to avoid red wines with fish. However, low tannin reds are fine with meaty fish. Wines with high tannin content can also taste bitter with salty foods.
Additional considerations to match wine with food sucessfully will continue in our next blog post, stay tuned!
References: Wine & Spirits Education Trust – London, England – Wine and Food Pairing
Books to consult when trying to best pair wine and food
Join us on Sunday, September 19, 2010 for the Second Annual WPSU Wine celebration. This tasting will feature a variety of wines from the world’s greatest vineyards, and a selection of unique and premium wines, wine accessories and art will be offered in both live and silent auctions throughout the afternoon.
Author: Ted Liberti
Bio: Ted Liberti developed a passion for fine wines while living in London in the 1980s and while working with Jean-Pierre Tardy, Le Bec-Fin's former executive chef and Maître Cuisinier de France, during his restaurant's 1986 Chaîne des Rôtisseurs food and wine competition dinners in Bucks County, PA. He gained further French wine knowledge while working in Paris in the early 1990s. Starting in 2006, he has conducted educational wine tastings for Italian, French, Spanish and South American wines. A Mount Nittany AWS member, Ted has done much self-study and is currently working toward his advanced Wine and Spirit Education Trust (WSET) certification. His wife Jan's passion beyond travel, food and wine is gourmet healthy cooking. They recently returned from the Rhône/Provence wine harvest in southern France.
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