Matching wine with food is part science and part art. It is something that gives increased pleasure to both things and in my opinion makes them more exciting as a result. It is something friends and clients regularly ask me about – often when it’s for an important event or a wedding or something a bit more ‘showy-offy’ than your casual evening in. It’s something that I am consciously trying to bring more to the forefront of my day-to-day shopping habits; to think more carefully about whether the bottle I throw thoughtlessly in my basket in the supermarket will actually compliment what I’m cooking for dinner.
As well as being part art and part science wine and food matching is, as with so many other aspects of wine, down to personal taste. No one can tell you if what you’re tasting is pleasant or not as everyone tastes things differently. Consequently there are going to be flaws in every theory, exceptions to every rule and divides between opinions with whatever you put together. There are, however, some basic rules and principals which, if followed, should push you in the right direction. I have tried to put these together below in some sort of sensible order. These are not infallible but give them a try, experiment with them and hopefully it will encourage you to be a little more adventurous with your wine choices as a result…
Acidity – acidity in wine matches with acidity in food. It helps to think of this as the ‘wedge of lemon affect’ – any dish you can imagine benefitting from a squeeze of lemon juice on top will in all likelihood match well with an acidic wine. Acidic wines can include Sauvignon Blanc, cool-climate Chardonnays (like Chablis) or dry Rieslings. This technique can bring out flavours in wine and food previously too tart to appreciate.
Sweetness – examples of wines that show the appearance of sweetness are Rielsings, Gewurztraminers and Muscats. Sweetness in a wine can balance out moderate levels of spice in food (Asian food for example). It can also compliment sweeter elements of a dish (think of things that may go alongside a dish that bring sweetness to it such as chutneys or apple sauce). Finally there are dessert wines – the rule with dessert wines is that the wine must be sweeter than the dessert itself.
Saltiness – saltiness in food is lessened by acidity in wine and can be exaggerated by tannin (mostly found in red wines). It can be counterbalanced by off-dry or sweet wines; for example a salty Roquefort cheese goes brilliantly with a very sweet Sauternes.
Tannin – tannin comes from the skins and stalks of a wine and to a certain extent from any contact a wine may have had with oak barrels. Tannins in a wine are balanced out with protein and fat in food. A lack of protein and fat in a dish would make a tannic wine taste quite metallic.
Oak – oak in wine is a tricky thing when it comes to food as the oaky flavours often become exaggerated therefore they need very specific foods to show them at their best. Oak adds smoothness and roundness of texture to wines, you therefore need to think of the texture of your dish as well as the flavour.
Good luck and happy tasting!