They’re two of my favorite things: food and wine. You’ve probably seen wine pairing suggestions on many restaurant menus, including our own, but have you ever thought of why certain wines do or do not pair well with certain foods?
A great place to start when it comes to pairing wine with food is “What grows together, goes together.” That is to say, you could pair an Italian wine with an Italian pasta dish to make a great pairing without putting much thought into it. But if you want to dig a little deeper into why certain wines pair well with certain foods, there are some simple fundamentals that help explain this.
The tongue has receptors for five basic tastes: saltiness, sweetness, bitterness, sourness, and savoriness. (The savoriness category is often referred to by its Japanese term, “umami,” which translates to ‘delicious.’ Think cheese, broths, cooked meats.) Keep these categories in mind with respect to both wine and food when deciding on pairings. Ultimately, taste is up to your own taste! Taste is subjective, so try different pairings and decide what you like best.
A wine’s structure is pulled together by a blend and balance of its characteristics such as acidity, tannin, alcohol content, sweetness, and oakiness. Think of these as flavor ingredients that counteract or accentuate tastes in foods.
- Think fresh, tart, and sour traits.
- Acidity causes a mouthwatering response and can amplify flavor perceptions.
- Acidic wines can help “cut through” (standout and contrast) fatty, oily, rich or salty dishes. Why do we so often see lemon on seafood dishes? To cut through the brininess of the dish! The same concept applies when pairing a wine with seafood.
- Tannins give structure and backbone to wine. They add a gritty texture and chalky, astringent taste to wine.
- Tannins are not smelled or tasted, but perceived. Think of a puckering and a drying sensation, and sense of bitterness they leave on the tongue. This is because tannins react with proteins in saliva. They also react with proteins in food.
- Why are tannic wines best paired with dishes like red meat and hard cheese? Because the tannins react to the proteins in these protein-rich, fatty foods, softening the wine!
- Try a tannic wine with a low fat, low protein food. You’ll notice the accentuated bitterness and drying effect on your palate.
- Alcohol is the primary influencer of a wine’s body
and density. A higher alcohol content usually means a fuller bodied wine.
- A higher alcohol wine will increase the
perception of density and texture. Saltiness and spiciness will heighten the
perception of “heat” on the tongue, and a higher alcohol wine will emphasize
the heat of a spicy dish.
- Sweetness in a wine can be masked by acidity and
- In dry wines, sugars have been fully fermented
into alcohol. In dessert wines, there is a greater amount of residual sugars
left in the wine.
- Sweetness balances spice and heat. If you eat a
very spicy dish, reach for a sweeter wine to help alleviate the burning sensation.
- Sweetness can also balance tartness in a dish.
- Oak can affect the color, flavor, tannin profile,
and texture of wine.
- Phenols in the wood barrels can produce vanilla flavors,
imparting notes of sweetness on the resulting wine.
- The barrel’s “toast” can also affect properties
of a wine, like tannin level and wood flavor.
- Very oaky wines can overwhelm dishes. A nice
rule of thumb is “Smoke with oak.” Grilled and charred foods help tame the
intense oakiness of a wine, allowing the fruit flavors to come forward.
Some more rules of
- Match weight and texture. Think of the balance between the weight of a food and the weight of a wine. Bold, weighty flavors will overpower light, delicate flavors. Pair heavy, rich dishes pair with bold, full-bodied wines; pair light and delicate dishes with light wines.
- Pair fatty foods with acidic and tannic wines. Acidity and tannin cut through the richness of fatty foods, providing an overall balance on the palate. But avoid pairing acidic wines with creamy sauces — this pairing will clash! It’s all about the right balance
- Pair sweet wine with salty food. This is why we love chocolate-covered pretzels or kettle corn. Experiment with sweet/salty pairings!
- Pair sweet with sweet. If the food is sweet than the wine, the wine will taste weak.
- Pair acid with acid. A wine less acidic than the dish will taste weak.
Pair according to your personal taste! Experiment to find out what that is. If you want to try a red wine with a light fish dish, by all means try it! Think about the notes above when deciding why you don’t (or do!) like the pairing. If you only like red wine, find the right ones for the right dishes. Hopefully this blog can help guide you!
Looking for a wine to pair with your dinner? Here are my recommendations that you can find in the Market Wine Shop!
Fish: Domaine de la Patience, Chardonnay | $20
Red meat: Isabela, Rosso Vineto | $18
Pasta: Viberti, Dolcetto d’Alba | $22
Salad: Capuget, Rosé | $19
Dessert: Saracco, Moscato d’Asti | $12
Visit our wine shop to get the bottle you’re looking for! Need help? Ask me or anyone working in the Market. We love pairing each guest with the perfect wine!
Cheers! Will Olendorf, Maynards Market & Kitchen Sommelier
April Wines of the Month
Red Wine of the Month
Moulin De Gassac | Guilhelm | Pays D’Hérault, France
Fresh red raspberry, cherry, blackberry, and strawberry compliment the spice of this wine that also has a rustic touch of the terroir it came from. It’s great with a variety of cheeses and grilled meats.
White Wine of the Month
Stone Cellars | Cuvéet Brut | N/V | California
Fresh apple, kiwi, and pineapple with a toasty/pastry quality. Pairs well with most dishes, especially oysters.