|Wine and food matching is the process of
pairing food dishes with wine to enhance the dining experience.
In many cultures, wine has had a long history of being a staple
at the dinner table and in some ways both the winemaking and
culinary traditions of a region will have evolved together
over the years. Rather than following a set of rules, local
cuisines were paired simply with local wines. The modern "art"
of food pairings is a relatively recent phenomenon, fostering
an industry of books and media with guidelines for pairings
of particular foods and wine.
and food matching
the restaurant industry, sommeliers are often present to
make food pairing recommendations for the guest. The main
concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as
texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently
to each other and finding the right combination of these
elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable.
However, taste and enjoyment are very subjective and what
may be a "textbook perfect" pairing for one taster could
be less enjoyable to another.
While there are many books, magazines and websites with
detailed guidelines on how to pair food and wine, most food
and wine experts believe that the most basic element of
food and wine pairing is understanding the balance between
the "weight" of the food and the weight (or body) of the
wine. Heavy, robust wines like Cabernet Sauvignon can overwhelm
light delicate dish like a quiche while light bodied wines
like Pinot grigio would be similarly overwhelmed by a hearty
stew. Beyond weight, flavors and textures can either be
contrasted or complemented. From there a food and wine pairing
can also take into consideration the sugar, acid, alcohol
and tannins of the wine and how they can be accentuated
or minimized when paired with certain types of food.
most of history, wine has been a regular accompaniment
to meals. Often the culinary and winemaking traditions
of a region would evolve together, creating a natural
pairing between the local wine and the local cuisine.
had a long history of being served as an accompaniment to
food. The early history of wine has it origins as another
dietary staple and a beverage that was often more sanitary
than the local water supply. There is little evidence that
much serious thought was given to pairing particular dishes
to particular wines with most likely whatever wine was available
being used. However, as culinary traditions in a region developed,
so too did local winemaking tradition.
Many pairings that are considered "classics" today emerged
from the centuries old relationship between a region's cuisine
and their wines. In Europe, lamb was a staple meat of the
diet for many areas that today are leading wine regions. The
red wines of regions such as Bordeaux, Greece, Rioja, Ribera
del Duero, Rhone and Provence are considered classic pairings
with the lamb dishes found in the local cuisines of those
regions. In Italy, the intimate connection between food and
wine is deeply embedded in the culture and is exemplified
by the country's wine. Historically, Italians rarely dined
without wine and a region's wine was crafted to be "food friendly",
often with bright acidity. While some Italian wines may seem
tannic, lean or tart by themselves they often will show a
very different profile when paired with boldly flavored Italian
have been some historical anecdotes that have related to food
and wine pairing before modern times. One anecdote often attributed
to British wine merchants is "Buy on an apple and sell
on cheese" meaning that if a wine tastes good when paired
with a raw, uncooked apple it must be truly good and pairing
any wine with cheese will make it more palatable to the average
consumer and easier to sell. The principles behind this anecdote
lies in the food pairing properties of both fruit and cheeses.
Fruits that are high in sugar and acidity (such as the malic
acid in green apples) can make wines taste metallic and thin
bodied. In contrast, hard cheeses such as cheddar can soften
the tannins in wines and make them taste fuller and fruitier.
Another historical anecdote, still repeated today, is "White
wine with fish; Red wine with meat". The root of this
adage rests on the principle of matching the body (weight)
of the wine with the weight of the food. Meat was generally
heavier and "red" in color so it was assumed that a red wine
(which was usually heavier than white wine) paired better.
Similarly fish was generally light and "white" in color so
it was often paired with white wine. This adage has become
out dated somewhat due to the variety of wine styles prevalent
in modern winemaking where there are now many "heavy" white
wines such as "New World" oaky Chardonnay that can have more
body than lighter reds such as Pinot noir or Italian Merlots.
years, the popularity and interest in food and wine pairings
have increased and taken on new connotations. Industries have
sprung up with print publications and media dedicated to expounding
on the principles and ideals of pairing the perfect wine with
the perfect dish. In the restaurant industry, there is often
a dedicated individual or staff of sommeliers who are trained
to recommend wine pairings with the restaurant's fare. The
origins of this recent phenomenon can be traced to the United
States in the 1980s when Neo-Prohibitionists prompted the
wine industry to reexamine the context of wine-drinking as
a component of dining rather than as just an alcoholic beverage
meant for consumption and intoxication. Winemakers started
to emphasize the kind of food dishes that their wines would
go well with, some even printing pairing suggestions on back
wine labels. Food magazines began to suggest particular wines
with recipes and restaurants would offer multi-course dinners
matched with a specific wine for each course.
there are multiple sources for detailed guidelines and tips
on food and wine pairing. But many wine drinkers select wine
pairings based on instinct, the mood of the meal or simply
a desire to drink a particular wine at the moment they desire
to eat a particular meal. The subjective nature of taste
makes it possible to drink any kind of wine with any kind
of food and have an enjoyable experience. Wine expert Mark
Oldman has noted "Food and Wine pairing can be like sex
and pizza: even when it's bad, it can still be pretty good"
and gives the example of wedding cake with a dry sparkling
wine. A very dry wine with a very sweet food is, according
to Oldman, "the equivalent of nails on a chalkboard"
and is not a "good pairing" according to most guidelines but
the atmosphere of the occasion and the subjective nature of
taste can trump any rule or guideline. Today, many wine experts and
advocates in the realm of food and wine pairing try to focus
on the more objective physical aspects of food that have an
effect on the palate, altering (or enhancing) the perception
of various aspects of the wine.
and wine pairings, the most basic element considered is "weight"-the
balance between the weight of the food (a heavy, red sauce
pasta versus a more delicate salad) and the weight or "body"
of the wine (a heavy Cabernet Sauvignon versus a more delicate
Pinot grigio). In wine tasting, body is determined primarily
by the alcohol level of the wine and can be influenced by
the perceptions of tannins (from the grape skins or oak) and
extract (the dissolved solids in the wine derived from winemaking
processes like extended maceration and sur lie aging). An
oaked Chardonnay from a warm wine region, such as Australia
will be "heavier" in body than a stainless steel fermented
Chardonnay from a cooler wine region such as Chablis. Pairing
heavy wines with light dishes or vice versa, can result in
one partner overwhelming the other.
The "weight" of a food can also be described in terms of the
intensity of its flavors-such as delicate and more subtle
flavors versus dishes that have more robust and hearty flavors. A key to pairing upon this
principle is to identify the dominant flavor of the dish.
Sauces can be the dominant flavor instead of the meat or main
component. While poached fish is usually light bodied and
better served with a light white, if the fish is served with
a heavy cream sauce it could be better balanced with a fuller
bodied white wine or light red.
Below is a
rough guideline of the various weights of wines. Winemaker and
regional style as well as oak treatment can cause a wine to be
lighter or heavier in body. For example, Pinot noir can vary from
being very light to more medium bodied. Another example is the
influence of regional climates. Warmer climate wine regions tend
to produce wines with higher alcohol levels and thus more fuller
bodied wines so that a Sauvignon blanc from California may have
a heavier weight than a Sauvignon blanc from the Loire.
Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon
blanc, Chablis, Champagne and sparkling wines, Gruner Veltliner,
to heavy whites
Oaked Sauvignon blanc, Alsatian wines, Albarino, White Bordeaux
(Semillon), White Burgundy, Rhone whites (Viognier, Roussanne,
Marsanne), Tamaioasa Romaneasca and New World Chardonnay
Beaujolais, Dolcetto, some Pinot noir
Chianti, Barbera, Burgundy, Chinon, Rioja, Cabernet franc, Merlot,
Malbec, Zinfandel, some Pinot noir
Syrah, Brunello di Montalcino, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, Barbaresco
of the pairing
While a perfect
balance where both food and wine are equally enhanced is theoretically
possible, typically a pairing will have a more enhancing influence
on one or the other. Master Sommelier Evan Goldstein notes that
food and wine pairing is like two people having a conversation:
"One must listen while the other speaks or the result is a
muddle". This means either the food or the wine will be the
dominant focus of the pairing, with the other serving as a complement
to enhance the enjoyment of the first. In regards to weight and
intensity, if the focus of the pairing is the wine then a more
ideal balance will be a food that is slightly lighter in weight
to where it will not compete for attention with the wine but not
too light to where it is completely overwhelmed. If the focus
of the pairing is to highlight a dish then the same thought would
apply in pairing a wine.
The racy acidity of sparkling wine and the rich texture of
foie gras is an example of a contrasting pairing.
weight, pairing the flavors and texture can be dealt with using
one of two main strategies complement or contrast.
strategy tries to bring wine together with dishes that complement
each other such as an earthy, Burgundian Pinot noir with an earthy,
strategy operates under the truism that "opposites attract" and
brings together food and wine that have contrasting traits such
as a crisp, acidic Sauvignon blanc and a fish with a creamy lemon
sauce. The crisp acidity of the wine serves as a contrast that
can cut through the creaminess of the sauce and give a different,
refreshing sensation for the palate as oppose to what a complementary
pairing, such as a creamy, buttery Chardonnay, would bring. For
most of history, the "complementary strategy" was the prevailing
thought on food and wine pairing. In the 1980s, as more people
started to discover and experiment with pairings, the idea of
using contrast started to gain more favor. It follows the same
idea that the "salty/sweet" pairing does in cooking (such as salty
peanut butter with sweet jelly).
The same food
may be complemented or contrasted: a hard, nutty cheese
such as Hirtenkase should have "a nutty, slightly sweet wine with
it," or a full bodied red
properties of wine
While it is
often said that "taste is subjective", there are quantifiable
taste characteristics (like bitter, sweet, salty or sour) that
can be perceived and measured as low, moderate or high such as
measuring the sweetness of honey or the saltiness of oysters.
Flavors, such as butterscotch, char and strawberry, are more personal
and can't be quantifiable. Flavors are either perceived to be
present or not. The perception of flavors is linked to our sense
of smell, while tastes come from the sensory glands of the taste
buds. Though individual sensitivity to the different taste "senses"
can vary, wine experts will often recommend pairings based on
these more objective measurements rather than the more subjective
concept of "flavors". In wine there are three basic tastes-bitter,
sweet and sour. These three taste can each be identified with
a primary component of the wine-tannins (bitter), residual sugar
(sweet) and acidity (sour). A fourth component, alcohol, is identified
in wine tasting with a perception of "heat" or hotness in the
back of the mouth and is the primary factor influencing the body
of the wine. The residual heat of the alcohol can be considered
in food pairing with some ingredients minimizing the heat of the
wine while some will accentuate it.
The acidity of salad dressing and tomatoes can cancel some
of the tartness in a Beaujolais wine, allowing the fruit to
be more noticeable.
a dominant player in any food and wine pairing due to the pronounced
and complex ways that it can heighten the perception of flavors.
In wine tasting, acidity is perceived by a mouth watering response
by the salivary glands. This mouth watering can also serve to
stimulate the appetite. In wine there are three main acids that
have their own associated flavors-malic (green apples), lactic
(milky) and tartaric (bitter). In dishes that are fatty, oily,
rich or salty, acidity in wine can "cut" (or standout and contrast)
through the heaviness and be a refreshing change of pace on the
palate. In cooking, acidity is often used in similar fashions
such as a lemon wedges with a briny seafood dish such as oysters.
The acidity of the lemon juices can make the oysters seem less
briny. A wine that is less tart than the dish it is served with
will taste thin and weak. A wine that comes across as "too tart"
on its own maybe soften when paired when an acidic and tart dish.
The complementing "tartness" of the food and wine cancels each
other out and allows the other components (fruit of the wine,
other flavors of the food) to be more noticeable.
of wines is determined by the amount of residual sugar left in
the wine after the fermentation process. Wines can be bone dry
(with the sugars fully fermented into alcohol), off-dry (with
a hint of sweetness), semi-dry (medium-sweet) and dessert level
sweetness (such as the high sugar content in Sauternes and Tokays).
Sweet wines often need to be sweeter than the dish they are served
with. Vintage brut champagne paired with sweet, wedding cake can
make the wine taste tart and weak while the cake will have off
flavors. In food pairings, sweetness balances spice and heat.
It can serve as a contrast to the heat and alleviate some of the
burning sensation caused by peppers and spicy Asian cuisine.
It can accentuate the mild sweetness in some foods and can also
contrast with salt such as the European custom of pairing salty
Stilton cheese with a sweet Port.
Sweetness in a wine can balance tartness in food, especially if
the food has some sweetness (such as dishes with sweet & sour
and fats in cheese can soften the perception of tannins in
wine, making a wine seem less bitter and more fruity.
associated with wine is usually derived from a wine's tannins.
Tannins add a gritty texture and chalky, astringent taste. It
can enhance the perception of "body" or weight in the wine. Tannins
are normally derived from the skins and stems of the grapes themselves
(leeched out during the maceration process) or from contact with
oak during barrel aging. Tannins react to proteins. When paired
with dishes that are high in proteins and fats (such as red meat
and hard cheeses), the tannins will bind to the proteins and come
across as softer. In the absence of protein from the food, such
as some vegetarian dishes, the tannins will react with the proteins
on the tongue and sides of the mouthâ€”accentuating the bitterness
and having a drying effect on the palate. Various cooking methods,
such as grilling and blackening can add a bitter "char" component
to the dish that will allow it to play well with a tannic wine.
While fish oils can make tannic wines taste metallic or off. Bitter tannic wines like Barolo
and Cabernet Sauvignon can overwhelm a lot of foods but can be
soften by fatty foods with a lot of proteins such as hard cheeses
or meats. The dry tannins also serve as a cleansing agent on the
palate by binding to the grease and oils left over in the mouth.
Spicy and sweet foods can accentuate the dry, bitterness of tannins
and make the wine seem to have off flavors.
the primary factor in dictating a wine's weight & body. Typically
the higher the alcohol level, the more weight the wine has. An
increase in alcohol content will increase the perception of density
and texture. In food and wine pairing, salt and spicy heat will
accentuate the alcohol and the perception of "heat" or hotness
in the mouth.
Conversely, the alcohol can also magnify the heat of spicy food
making a highly alcoholic wine paired with a very spicy dish one
that will generate a lot of heat for the taster.
basic guidelines listed above, food pairings can dive even further
into matching several layers of texture and flavors. The term
"bridge ingredients" refer to ingredients and flavors that have
certain affinities to wine pairing (such as slow cooked onions
to creamy wines, etc.). It can also refer to using particular
herbs and spices perceived in the wine (such as rosemary in some
Cabernet Sauvignon) and adding them to the dish as an ingredient.
Their presence in a dish may increase the likelihood that the
certain wines will pair well.
principles can be used for pairing wines with Asian cuisine. Pair
for the flavor of the dish - whatever the 'main ingredient' may
be - it is not the meat, seafood, or vegetables that stand out
as the predominant flavor. Rather the true flavor of the dish
is determined by the cooking method (for example, the toasty flavors
of a stir fry), the sauce (from curries to sweet-and-sour), the
use of seasonings (such as ginger and coriander leaves to mask
fishy tastes), or the blending of ingredients to for new flavors
(as in sukiyaki or satay). Indeed it may result from a combination
of any of these elements. Also, note that in the case of an Asian
meal, several dishes are served at the same time and are shared
by everyone present. The wine chosen for such a meal has to be
Science of Wine Aroma
the Acids in Wine
(Tannins) in Wine
The Basic Wine Pairing Rules
Science of Food and Wine Pairing
a Wine Sommelier
K. MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 83-88 Workman Publishing
Oldman "Oldman's Guide to Outsmarting Wine" pg 219-235
Penguin Books 2004
MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 255 & 318 Workman Publishing
Robinson (ed) "The Oxford Companion to Wine" Third
Edition pg 277-278 Oxford University Press 2006
MacNeil The Wine Bible pg 107 Workman Publishing
Goldstein "Perfect Pairings" pg 14-27 University
of California Press 2006
A reviewer at the San Francisco Chronicle
wrote, "I want a nutty, slightly sweet wine with it, such as an oloroso sherry
or a Madeira." Janet Fletcher, "Cheese Course" San Francisco Chronicle,
February SF Gate website. Accessed March 17, 2009.
- iGourmet website. Accessed March 17, 2009.
P; Soon, E (2008). Wine With Asian Food. Tide-Mark
Press. p. 1.
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