Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Food and Wine Pairing Primer

Because food and wine pairing are very subjective, balance and harmony can be perceived differently by different palates. Also, each individual has his or her own threshold for certain tastes.

Therefore, I feel that one of the most important aspects in pairing is matching the weight or body of both the food and wine. Body refers to how the wine feels in your mouth as well as how long the flavors last. The common analogy is that a light-bodied wine is similar in mouth feel to that of skim milk where a heavy-bodied wine is more similar to drinking cream. Examples of different body styles in foods would be grilled chicken as opposed to fried chicken.

Foods can also be served that mimic the flavors of the wine. This complementary aroma and flavor approach to pairings is usually very successful. By using fruit in a sauce similar to the fruit flavor in the wine, the two elements “marry” together. An earthy red Burgundy or Pinot Noir works well with earthy foods such as root vegetables or meat with onions, mushrooms, walnuts or mustard. Try an herbal Sancerre alongside shrimp flavored with dill or other herbs. A late-harvest Riesling with flavors of apricots and almonds goes beautifully with an almond tart.

Wine can also be included in the food preparation to create a “bridge” between the two elements. Create a quick sauce by first browning your entree, then saute some shallots in olive oil and deglaze the pan with the wine you are drinking.

Matching intensity of the wine with that of the food is another pairing strategy. For instance, more delicate dishes should be served with lighter-bodied wines.

Certain food textures, types of spices used, methods of food preparation and amount of fats used will also influence the choice of wine and whether it is perceived as harmonious.

Most of the classical food and wine pairings match regional wines with regional dishes. For instance, Spanish paella with Rioja, coq au vin with red Burgundy, tomato-based sauces with Chianti and lamb with red Bordeaux.

The more you learn about the different grape varieties and their characteristics, the process of wine making for both red and white grapes, and the changes that occur with aging, you will be able to understand that some elements may seems more prominent upon tasting and are not necessarily signs of an unbalanced wine. Some harmonious young red wines can have an astringent or dry feeling in your mouth that comes from tannins in the grape or from fermentation practices, which can convey to you its aging potential.

A few components of a wine’s balance can be manipulated. The consumer can alter the intensity of sweetness or acidity, mute flavors or magnify tannins in an unbalanced wine by serving it more chilled.

Experiment! Plan your menu and choose both a white and red wine to compare. The best food and wine pairing is ultimately the one you prefer.