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Food and Wine
Matching food and wine can increase your enjoyment of the whole dinning experience. Having said that, don’t get too serious about it, because in general most wines and foods work well together - there are only a few pairings which dont work.
Historically there were no set rules for pairing, simply local cuisines were paired with local wines. In recent years more attention has been given to the pairing of wine and food with many books written to give you guidelines.
Where to Start
The main idea behind pairing wine with food is to find the right combination of such things as texture and flavour. The following attributes of food and wine are considered when pairing:
Most experts believe that the simplest form of food and wine pairing is to understand the balance between the "weight" of the food and the weight (or body) of the wine.
‘Heavy’ wines can overpower light delicate dishes and conversely light bodied wines would be equally overwhelmed by a heavy dish, a stew for example.
The most commonly known pairing is White wine with fish; Red wine with meat. This matches the wine body (weight) with the weight of the food. Meat is heavier than fish and red wine is usually heavier than white wine. The pairing is not so true today as you can buy heavy white wines and light red wines.
A wine’s body, or weight, is mainly determined by its alcohol level but can also be influenced by the presence of tannins and extract (the dissolved solids in the wine).
The weight of a food can be defined by the intensity of its flavours- for example delicate and subtle flavours versus dishes that have more robust and hearty flavours.
After matching weight, flavours and textures can either be contrasted or complimented.
Sugar, acid, alcohol and tannins in the wine can be enhanced or minimized when paired with certain types of food.
The acidity of say a salad dressing and tomatoes can cancel some of the tartness in a wine, making the wine's fruit flavours more noticeable.
An acidic wine can contrast with dishes that are fatty, oily, rich or salty. In the same way, cooks add lemon juice to salty fish to 'cut through' or contrast with it.
The sweetness of wines ranges from bone dry (no sugar content) through off-dry (a hint of sweetness), semi-dry (medium sweetness) to dessert wines with a high sugar content.
As a general rule sweet wines will need to be sweeter than the dish they are served with.
Sweet wines will balance spicey, hot foods. The sweetness will contrast with the heat and help reduce the burning sensation. They can also contrast with salt for example pairing sweet Port with salty cheese.
The bitter dry taste in wine comes from its tannin content. When bitter 'tannic' wines are paired with dishes high in proteins and fats (e.g. red meat and hard cheeses), the tannins are perceived as tasting softer and the wine can taste fruitier.
Grilling food can add a bitter "char" taste to the food that compares well with a tannic wine.
Tannins also cleanse your palate by adhering to grease and oil in your mouth.
A wine's weight or body is primarily determined by its alcohol level so also refer to Matching Weight above.
Pairing a wine with a salty or hot spicy food will increase the heat of the alcohol in the mouth.
If you would like to discover more about food and wine pairing then I recommend that you read one of the following books:
What to Drink with What You Eat: The Definitive Guide to Pairing Food with Wine, Beer, Spirits, Coffee, Tea - Even Water - Based on Expert Advice.
Food and Wine Pairing: A Sensory Experience: The only book that presents food and wine pairing from a culinary and sensory perspective.
Perfect Pairings: A Master Sommelier's Practical Advice for Partnering Wine with Food.
Pairing Food And Wine: DVD showing you how to match multi-ethnic flavors with a wide range of wines to create your favorite combination.