Everything you wanted to know about matching food and wine…but were afraid to ask!
Did you know that one of the most frequently asked questions I receive is …How do you match food and wine?.
It seems that the perception of putting the right food with the right wine (or vice versa) is a difficult task.
It’s not …if you know the basics!
Before I get to the basics, I would like to give a little credit where credit is due. I have learned a lot about wine and food matching from Dave Larocque whom I would say is one of best that I have seen when it comes to pairing the characteristics of the wine to enhance the meal.
Dave Larocque is a wine educator for many wineries including Hillebrand and Peller Estates. He also conducts wine tastings and has been a featured guest speaker at many wine events and conventions around the country, many of which I have attended. Dave has also conducted my wine tasting events for the last 7 years. He certainly knows his way around the table when it comes to grapes and gastronomy (yes it’s a big word for me too) yet his style is very informative and down to earth and easy to understand.
My kind of information…KEEP IT SIMPLE.
Here are the 9 basic principles.
(I hope he adds another so I can do a ‘top 10’ at a later date)
1. Match your wine to the strongest flavour on the plate.
If you have a cream sauce then match the flavour of the sauce.
If you have a vegetable base then match the vegetable.
If you have a heavy meat as part of the dish then adjust the wine to the meat.
2. Balance the weight of the wine to the weight of the food.
Weight is defined by body plus texture. Body is the weight in your mouth. The analogy that best describes this is milk. Skim is light, homogenized is medium and 2% cream is full. Texture is best described as mouth feel. Astrigency, like steeped tea, is the example here.
A full flavoured meal needs a full flavoured wine: a lighter dish needs a lighter wine.
A light fish…light wine. Big steak…big red.
3. Fatty, greasy or rich foods need a dry wine with good acidity to cleanse the palate.
This one made me think. And the more I tried Sauvignon Blanc with a rich food like a really creamy ceasar salad the more I liked it. Try turkey with Pinot Noir if you don’t want to have the usual white (Chardonnay…did I say that out loud).And you may be surprised how well it goes. The low tannins of Pinot Noir matches the turkey well.
4. Salty dishes need a slightly sweet wine with full fruit flavours, lower alcohol and low tannins.
Though you might never normally enjoy a sweet or “off dry” wine you just might change you’re thinking on this one.
5. Hot, spicy dishes require refreshing acidity, lower alcohol and fruitiness and a touch of sweetness.
This one you have to try an off dry or a sweet wine. If you like Thai or Indian food try an off dry wine whether it be a Zinfandel Blush or a Gewurtztraminer. I was amazed how sweeter wines (which I do not normally consume) go so amazingly well with spicy food.
6. Cream sauces and butter require wines with good fruit and matching creamy style.
This one just screams a wooded Chardonnay which can be very buttery tasting because of the oak and is typically very fruity.
7. Dessert wines should be sweeter than the dessert.
If you put an off-dry or dry wine with a very sweet dessert it will make the wine taste very sharp. It’s that simple.
8. Rare meats need young tannins, well done meats need low or little tannins.
A young wine is generally more tannic (astringent) than older wines because tannins soften over time. If you like your steak on the rare side open a younger or more tannic wine. If you like your meat cooked more on the medium to well done side, have an older or less tannic wine. The proteins in the meat will soften the tannins. The more rare, the more proteins.
9. High acidity foods need high acidity wines.
A good example of this is why Sauvignon Blanc is one of the better salad matching wines. I tried my favourite Chardonnay and a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc side by side with a salad with Balsamic vinegar and I was quite surprised that the latter matched so much better than my favourite. Try it sometime.
The key is to keep trying different foods with different wines but remember the basics because it will save you time (and perhaps some money). Some foods will go better with some wines but it is still very subjective and simply a preference. It’s like touching the stove. you know it’s hot but you sure as heck learn by doing so.