There can be few culinary experiences more rewarding than finding that perfect combination between an exquisite dish and the perfect wine – be that red or white. However, finding that perfect balance can be a tremendously subjective experience – just as the enjoyment of the wine itself is. That said there are some guidelines which can assist those who want to find great pairings to make an educated choice of wines that will match the flavor profiles of certain types of dishes.
There are six basic elements that will serve as a guideline when choosing that perfect bottle of wine to accompany a meal.
The first of these elements is the fat content of the food. Many of the meats (including fish and poultry) have high levels of fat. The wine selected to balance this fact content out should have relatively high acidity. Other considerations are the levels of tannins in the wine which also help to ‘cut’ that fattiness and higher alcohol content which balances out the fat content. A great example is pairing cabernet with a fabulous cut of steak. The proteins and fats of the steak offset the dryness of the wine and provide the tongue with a canvas to savor rich wine flavors of fruit and dark berries.
The second element when evaluating wine pairings is acid. Think of the citrus (lemon) that complements seafood dishes so well. Even a salad with a citrus based dressing can provide a challenge. the key is to find a wine with a pronounced acid flavor profile of its own to match that of the meal. Great choices include Sauvignon Blanc or Sémillon.
Thirdly there is the salt element. Salt is such an overpowering element that it can make wine pairing an extremely challenging exercise. Highly salted foods can turn even the most robust of red wines into an unpleasant experience. the key for many experts is to be found in sparkling wines. The carbonation and acid content of sparkling wines allow them to imitate that most noble of drinks that compliment salty food – beer.
Then there is sweetness. The perfect wine to pair with sweet food depends on just how sweet they are – there is a world of difference between a fruity berry sauce and a meringue. For the lighter levels of sweetness rich white wines like Chardonnay are perfect. The higher alcohol content balances out that sweetness. When the levels of dessert sweetness are reached then it is time to go for a sweet wine that can exceed that of the desert itself. Sauternes and Barsac are two great choices. With rich, chocolaty desserts try out a Shiraz – especially with dark chocolate.
Second, to last of the elements is bitterness. The choice here is entirely subjective. Canceling out bitterness is extremely difficult and it is best left to the individual to deal with the challenge. Avoid bitter wines as the bitterness of a substandard wine and the bitterness of the food component will merely serve to reinforce each other – an effect that is known as ‘cumulative’.
Lastly, there is texture. The pairing will benefit from the theory of similarity. Light wines with light foods, heavier wines with heavier meals. A great example of wines to match a heavy meal – for instance, a steak with a creamy sauce, is Chardonnay or Semillon. Lighter meals such as chicken or white fish would benefit from pairing with Riesling; Sauvignon Blanc or unoaked Chardonnay.
The key is personal taste. It is not always necessary to stick to conventional rules when exp[loring wine pairings. At best these rules are a scaffolding to build on – make your own mind up – and continue to explore. That exploration is after all one of the reasons that so many people enjoy their individual wine journeys.