At the cornerstone of proper wine pairing is a simple phrase that really is as easy as it sounds, “drink what you like.” But, for those who truly want to bring out the best flavors from their meal and wine, there are some simple pairing techniques that will help you along the way.
When assisting customers with a wine selection, or when shopping for enjoyment at home, inquire about the attributes of the meal with the following questions:
- Is the meal light or savory?
- Does the main dish have a lot of fat?
- Are there acidic or rich flavors in the meal?
- Will the meal be very spicy?
- Where in the world is the recipe from?
This is a category where opposites don’t typically attract. Delicate wines go best with light and delicate dishes – just as full-bodied wines go well with rich and flavorful dishes. The key is to avoid a power struggle between the flavors of the wine and the meal. Consider the weight of the meal, if it is heavy, match it with a heavy wine – if it is light, match it with a lighter wine.
Tannins complement the thick and viscous nature of fatty meats. Wines with tannins have an overall astringent flavor, which strips the fats on taste buds and cleanses the palate, leaving a refreshing sip or bite for each taste. Wines with high-levels of tannins include California Cabernet Sauvignon, Super Tuscans and Bordeaux selections.
Wines with high-acidic elements pair perfectly with meals that are also high in acid. These wines, including Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadet, glide along with the flavorful elements of sauces that contain tomato, cheese or cream. Deep-fried foods and vinegar-based sauces or dressings also pair well with highly acidic wines.
Particular regions around the globe offer meals that tend to pack a bit of kick. It is possible to pair these dishes with a light and crisp wine that cuts the heat and balances the oil or butter of the dish. For Indian and Asian meals, consider Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Zinfandel or Grenache. Stay clear of big-bodied reds with a lot of tannins as they tend to conflict with the flavor of spices.
It seems simple enough, because it is that simple. Regional cuisine is typically indicative of regional wine flavors and vice versa. This is especially true for European wines. The centuries of traditional cuisine, cooking styles and local ingredients tend to go hand in hand with the varieties of wine that grow in the same land. As for regions that cannot count their vineyard’s age in the centuries – especially in the melting pot of the U.S.A. - stick to the rule of pairing wine by weight and acidity.
When opening a particularly special bottle of wine, say a pricey aged-vintage that has been reserved for a special occasion, keep the rest of the meal light and simple. Showcase your wine for its full glory and flavor by letting it take center stage on the dinner table.