In general, there are a few guidelines for tasting wine: white wines before red, lighter wines before heavy, and sweet before dry wines. When I say sweet wines I’m referring to Moscatos and even some Rieslings, not dessert wines; these are in their own category and like dessert should be consumed after a meal.
When pairing wine and food it gets more complicated, but always remember the main elements of food and wine matching are:
- Overall sweetness.
Most important consideration – determine the intensity of the dish and the key ingredients. Quite often it is not the main ingredient/protein in a dish that provides the dominant flavor, which is why identifying key ingredients is so important. For example, in a creamy chicken curry, the sauce will be heavier and more robustly flavored than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce! It’s pretty much safe to say that you always match wine with the sauce.
Intensity in food and wine refers to their weight. The weight depends on the sugar, acid, salt, and spice content. Try to match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. Rich heavy dishes like filet mignon, need full-bodied wines. Always pair ardent flavors together like Sauvignon Blanc and asparagus, and mild ones like Grüner Veltliner with oysters.Weight, although similar to flavor intensity, is not the same. For example, boiled potatoes or pasta without a dressing or sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavor; as opposed to red/green bell peppers which are light in weight but full of flavor. The same concept goes for wine; Riesling makes a lightweight intensely flavored wine while Chardonnay makes heavy full-bodied wines that are lightly flavored.
Acidity, or high acid wines complement fatty foods the same way a lemon cuts through the greasiness of smoked salmon. Acidity in food needs to be complemented with the same acidity in wine. High acid wines are also useful in cleansing the palate so choose them when having dishes high in starch and/or made with lots of olive oil perfect example is shrimp scampi.
Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a touch of sweetness. Parma Ham and melon is a classic example, and the same can be achieved in wine. The wine should always be sweeter than the food. Sweet foods make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart. Sweet with salty is a classic duo and one that works really well for food and wine, the result is the sweetness of the wine is perceived as fruity and the salty of the food as savory. Perfect example: Stilton/Blue Cheese with Port, and Pate or Foie Gras with Sauternes, or salty finger foods before a meal with Champagne.
The more textured the food (fatty like duck, chewy like steak) the more tannin you will need in the wine. Tannin is what makes your mouth pucker when you drink wine, noticed more in red wines and vary greatly in different varietals. Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins and when consumed together the wine actually strips your mouth of fatty proteins leaving it feeling refreshed and cleansed.
If it grows together it stays together so pair food and wines from the same region. This is also very helpful in determining whether an establishment has a ‘well-rounded’ wine selection for the cuisine they are offering.
Heather Burton, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Wine & Spirits Supervisor
Follow me on Twitter @abcwineHeatherB