A Beginner's 10 Rules of Thumb for Pairing Food and Wine
Updated: Mar 15
Food and wine. Decide which is the soloist, which the accompanist.
These are the words of the late Michael Broadbent, a famous wine critic and renowned figure in the global wine industry. Wine enthusiasts have yet to find a definitive answer, but in a way, we can say that food and wine are both soloists as they are accompanists.
The richness and sweetness of wine from the impressive concoction of alcohol and fruits is perfect to end any tiring day. The wide array of flavor depths and varieties that food offers is always best to sate happy stomachs.
The mix-and-match of wines and different cuisines is a form of art that leaves creative space for the consumer to explore. Getting a well-considered pairing of food and wine enhances the dining experience of the consumer.
Benefits of a Well-Considered Wine and Food Pairing
1. It makes the dining experience more enjoyable.
Food and wine pairings elevate the flavors of both the drink and the dish. The wine and food work hand-in-hand to create a perfect meal, complementing and harmonizing with each other. The contrasting yet balanced palates of both halves of the pair offer a whole new dining experience to the consumers, catering to their varying preferences, as well.
2. It maximizes health benefits.
It is not always good to drink on an empty stomach; hence, the accompaniment of food to your drinking aids in slowing down the absorption of alcohol into the bloodstream by keeping it in the stomach longer. Drinking wine also aids in food digestion, prevents food poisoning, and removes potentially harmful substances in the food.
Rules of Thumb for Delicious Food and Wine Pairings
1. Acidic foods pair best with more acidic wines
If both food and wine are acidic, the suitable combo is an acidic dish paired with a more acidic wine.
The acidity of the food may overpower the richness and fruitiness of the wine. It is important to stress that wine-and-food pairings must be complementary and balanced. One must not be stronger or weaker than the other.
One example of acidic food is salad dressings. For health-conscious folks who eat a lot of salads, it is advisable to have a more acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc.
2. Sweet foods are to sweeter wines
The ultimate dessert -wine combo is perfect to seal any three-course meal. But you should be mindful of your dessert and wine choices to achieve that fireworks-like ending.
Similar to acidity levels, sweetness levels are also essential in determining a wine-and-food duo. Reiterating the rule that one must not overpower another, a sweeter food can diminish the wine's sweetness. The wine will seem watered-down due to the overwhelming sugared food.
Oatmeal cookies are great alternatives to sugary cookies when you want to achieve a cleaner lifestyle. Since oatmeal cookies have raisins, the plain Pinot Noir pairs well with their fruity tastes. A classic dark chocolate and Cabernet Sauvignon is yet another great pairing for those with a sweet tooth.
3. Similar flavor intensities
Following the congruence principle of wine-and-food pairing, a great duo should always cooperate hand-in-hand. Thus, wine and food should have identical flavor intensities.
Foods and wines have flavor groups. Earthy dishes, such as those with mushrooms, should pair with raunchy wines. Spicy and tangy dishes, such as Asian stir-fried food, are best matched with tasty wines.
4. Red wines suit red meats
Red with red, as white with white, is probably the most well-known rule for wine-and-food pairing. It’s common knowledge that red wines match best with more boldly-flavored meats. While this rule is considered simple and easy to remember, the explanation is not as basic as you may think.
The main reason why red meat pairs so well with red wine is that red wine contains tannins. The skins, stems, and seeds of the grapes used produce tannins, contributing to the bittersweet relish of red wines. That bitterness is compatible with the rich fattiness of red meats.
5. White with white
Following the logic above, white wines are therefore best with white meats. White meats, such as seafood and chicken, usually have a delicate taste that better matches weaker wines.
White wines do not overwhelm the delicacy of light meats, which red wines tend to do. The strong palate of red wines can lessen the tang of the white meat. Just like how a squirt of lemon intensifies seafood and chicken, white wines' acidity also enhances the flavor of white meat dishes.
Are you up for a seafood platter or a seafood pasta? The classic Albariño best pairs with shellfish such as prawns and crabs. If you are leaning towards the traditional thanksgiving feast of chicken and turkey, then Chardonnay is your best bet.
6. Fat balances bitter wines
Wines do not have the gummy flavor of fat. Hence, wines paired with fatty foods should counterbalance the fattiness. The tannin content of wines is key to cutting the fattiness of the meat. Tannins produce the acrid taste of wines, which softens the fat of the beef.
Red wine and steak combinations are great examples of this pairing rule. Ribeyes or fattier cuts of steaks need a robust wine to counter their richness. A Shiraz is a perfect choice. If you prefer light meals, hard cheeses can soften the tannins in wines and make them taste fuller and fruitier.
7. Focus on dominant flavors
Although it is important to consider the fat content of meats, it is better to focus on the course's distinct elements. The type of meat isn't always the most recognizable part of the food; sometimes, sauces can steal the spotlight.
Most steaks seasoned with salt and pepper pair well with almost any wine. However, restaurants have their special rubs and flavorings to make their recipes stand out.
Acidic wines can counter sweet sauces like brown sugar glazes. Even sweeter wines complement sugary dressings. Conversely, a more robust or spicier wine best accompanies heavily-seasoned or spiced meats. The contrast of fruit in wines also pairs well with intense flavors.
If your steak has a spicy and citrusy tang, the sweet Zinfandel or the fruity Moscato can counterbalance the intensity of tastes.
8. Contrasting pairings
White, Sparkling, and Rosé wines are excellent choices to create contrasting pairings. The sugars in sweet wines tame the spicy flavors of strongly-seasoned dishes. Similarly, the saltiness of food brings out the wine’s fruity and sugary flavors.
If your choice of meat is spicy and citrusy, try refreshing sparkling wines such as Bruts. Need a wine to spice up your trusty fast-food menu order? A tall glass of Chardonnay or Pinot is best with fried and salty foods.
9. Congruence is key
Congruency in wine pairings has always been a general rule. The food and wine chosen should share the same flavor profiles and intensities. This attribute enables both halves of the pair to maximize the magnitude of their relishes.
If you are to follow the congruence rule of wine-and-food pairings, wines should have the same intensity level as the food. Boldly-flavored foods often overwhelm delicate wines. Wines, thus, lose their distinctive tastes.
Red wines are a great base to jumpstart your congruent experiments. The diversity of red wines, which ranges from sugar on your tongue to fireworks in your mouth, makes it easy to match with foods. The richness of Shiraz varieties best pair with flavorful meats.
10. The Golden Rule
Just like how boys could get into make-up or girls could learn basketball, wine-and-food pairings are a matter of preference. No cuisine rule could ever dictate the oddity of your likings.
Although it is encouraged to follow the rules of wine-and-food pairings, your preference is still the vital statute for your own best dining experience. Experimenting with different wine varieties and foods of varying flavor profiles can help you attain that match-made-in-heaven.
The lineage of wine-and-food pairings history dates back before modern times. Merchants have exhibited their cuisine creativity through familiar anecdotes recited until today.
One example is the business strategy "Buy on apples, sell on cheese" of British merchants. Brokers often pair wines with sweet fruits, such as raw apples, for their experiments. When they match beautifully, sellers conclude that they also pair well with the more expensive cheese. The fruit-and-cheese principle can help you remember how wines complement the sweetness and fattiness of foods.
Such anecdotes reflect the basic rules in wine-and-food pairings. However, these rules should not force you to stay in your comfort zones. People’s preferences also vary and outweigh these wine-and-food pairing laws.
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