Wine was made to go with food. I believe most wine goes with most foods. The objective is to enhance both the food and the wine. The thing to remember is that to get a winning combination is a memorable achievement but it is all highly individual. There are no rights and wrongs just personal taste.
There has been a recent surge in the importance in the expertise of the ‘Master Sommelier’ but I say we all have the taste buds to be our own individual food and wine masters. At the end of the day food and wine is for enjoying together!
Wine is a wonderful accompaniment to food. It can aid digestion and can transform a simple meal into a memorable occasion. Not only does it contain nutrients and trace elements but red wine in particular reduces the risk of coronary heart disease (the so-called ‘French Paradox’).
It is true that never before have we had so many different world flavours from coriander to wasabi and a fusion of different food cultures on the same plate. In the past it used to be simpler: red wine with red meat or cheese, white wine with white meat or fish….but as our taste has become more developed with a daily excercising of our taste buds into exotic realms we come across in both food and wine, we realise that it is not as simple as we used to think. But how many of these old adages are myth vs reality?
It helps to divide wines up into wine styles such as fresh lightweight whites, creamier heavier whites, soft fruity reds, fullbodied rich reds….
You cannot go far wrong if you follow these simple steps;
Step 1; Try to match strength of flavours. Think of wine as a sauce. The stronger the flavor of the food, the more powerful the wine needs to be.
Step 2; In addition think of the weight of the dish, is it lightweight or rich? and the eight of the wine – we call this the body of the wine (full, medium, light). Take into consideration the sauce.
A. Lightweight dishes with Intense flavours eg Thai food goes well with wine that are light in body but have intense flavours eg Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
B. Rich dishes with Intense flavours eg lamb casserole goes well with a wine with full body and lots of flavour eg Malbec from Cahors or eg smoked salmon with a rich but acidicSemillon wine
C. Lightweight dishes with Delicate flavours eg oysters goes well with a wine that is light in body with subtle flavours eg Chablis
D. Rich dishes with Delicate flavours eg pheasant goes well with eg fullbodied wine that has matured eg Red Burgundy
Step 3; The impression of what we taste comes down to the interaction of four elements! We are looking for a good balance to make a perfect pairing.
- Bitterness (tannin from the skins) causes your gums to pucker.
- Saltiness (rare in wines)
- Sweetness (alcohol and fat come into this category)
If the dish has a dominating element such as acidity or sweetness than try to choose a wine which matches this. Sometimes contrasting it with an opposing taste works well such as the sweetness of port with the saltiness of stilton. These are the 5 basics to work with.
- Acidity in wine pairs well with fatty and sweet foods (but not with tannic wines, they will taste bitter)
- Fatty foods need either a wine high in acidity, alcohol or in tannins to cut through the fat , otherwise the wine will taste flabby. Tannins are attracted to fatty proteins which coat your mouth. Tannin molécules attach themselves to the protein and strip them from your mouth
- Tannic wine can be balanced with a sweet food.
- Salty shouldn’t compete with acidity in wine. Use sparingly as necessary to keep sharpness in the meal.
- Sweet food/wine benefits from a little acidity. Wines should be at least as sweet as the dessert(otherwise will taste over-acidic)
Step 4: Dont forget the aromas in the wine first found on the nose but then again on the palate (retronasal). There are 12 aroma families (Floral, Fruit, Vegetal, Balsamic, Roasted, Spice, Dairy, Woody, Animal, Mineral, Chemical, Ethereal*). It is fun to match these aromas in your dishes eg basil with a herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc, cinnamon with a spicy Syrah, spicy thai dshes with Ginger and cloves and Gewurztraminer, fruit desserts with grapey Muscat
Step 5: Texture is important too, matching or contrasting creaminess, velvet, fleshy or crisp characteristics
Difficult Wine Foods (but all possible); artichokes, asparagus, capers, citrus, chilli, chocolate, olives, tomatoes, eggs, salad dressing…
Classic Marriages; sauternes/roquefort, goats cheese/sauvignon, oysters/sauvignon, foie gras/Sauternes, Roast Pork/Beaujolais, fruits de mers/muscadet, smoked dalmon/Gewurztraminer
The key is to enjoy and experiment using a wider range of wines as possible. If we don’t use them we may well lose them to a sea of Chardonnay look-alikes. Remember that local wines were made to go well with local foods so this can be a short-cut to success!
*The 12 Aroma Families
We divide the different aromas we find in wine into 12 different families.
Black – blackcurrant, blackberry, plum, cherry
Red – raspberry, strawberry, red cherry, redcurrant
Citrus – lemon, lime ,grapefruit, orange
White/Yellow – peach, pear, apple, apricot, nectarine, muscat grapes, quince
Tropical – pineapple, mango, passion fruit, lychee
Dried Fruit and Nuts – apricot, marmalade, figs, prune, jam
Nuts – hazlenuts, almonds, walnuts
FLORAL FAMILY: violets (betianone molecule) rose, lilac, lily of the valley, iris, violet, hyacinth, ylang ylang, jasmin, lime blossom, orange blossom, acacia, magnolia, honeysuckle, geranium
SPICE (also tertiary aroma)
MINERAL FAMILY: flint, quartz, schist, limestone, graphite (pencil lead – mine de crayon)
ETHEREAL FAMILY: green apples, boiled sweets, pear drops, unripe bananas, strawberry bubblegum, candle wax, fermented dough, wheat, beer, cider, wine lees, yoghurt, butter
Toast, brioche, biscuit
– vinegar, soap, nail varnish remover
VEGETAL FAMILY: herby, herbaceous, leafy, green pepper (IBMP unripe grapes particularly Cabernet Sauvignon), tea, fern, green beans, peas, cut grass, asparagus, box,broom, tomato leaf and blackcurrant bud (all from the thiols of Sauvignon)
– garlic, cabbage,
CHEMICAL FAMILY: alcohol, iodine, petrol, tar, pharmaceutical
– chlorine, sulphur, roten eggs, styrene, glue, rubber
BALSAMIC FAMILY: syrup, balm, cough mixture
ROASTED FAMILY: smokey, roasted, toast, coffee, chocolate, cocoa, grilled, hazlenuts, almonds, spice bread, tobacco, caramel
Vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, clove
Aromatic Plants: rosemary, thyme, lavender, sage, bay, marjoram
VEGETABLE FAMILY Tertiary aromas with age – undergrowth, truffle, forest mushrooms
WOODY FAMILY: oak, cedar, pine, white tobacco, pencil shavings, cigar box
– unseasoned planks, damp cardboard (TCA damp cardboard), dusty old wood
ANIMAL FAMILY: game, venison, bacon, musky, bloody, cigar box, musk, civet
– damp dog, stable, sweat (phenol smell from Brettanomyces), cat’s pee (excessive thiol molecule), damp wool, goat’s cheese