I never gave wine pairing much thought and mostly chose wines based on a combination of my mood and the general rule of “red wines with meat, white wines with fish”. While that old saying may still ring true, there’s really so much more to it and it was only my recent experience at Vancouver Urban Winery that my eyes were opened to what pairing is really about.
I had the Sommelier’s Choice Wine & Food Pairing ($24), a seasonal selection of local meats, cheeses and even an espresso brownie paired with 5 wines curated by their Wine Sommelier. Our party was instructed to taste the wine, have a bite of the food and then take another sip of the wine—and WOW, it was surprising what a difference it made! Maybe it was that the combination was exceptional (probably) or maybe it was because I never paid much attention or took the time to truly savour the flavours (HA, probably true as well!), but I finally understood what all the fuss was about. Wine pairing is so much more than simply finding things that go well together, but when paired correctly (or incorrectly!) food can change the flavours within wine and wine can change the flavours within food. Now a changed woman (apparently an overdramatic one as well! Haha), I realize what a huge difference it makes when you are able to find the perfect wine to complement your meal.
5 Wine & Food Pairing Guidelines
Champion the Wine The number one guideline is to bring out the best characteristics of a wine. A high tannin red wine will taste like sweet cherries when paired with the right dish. Focus on the characteristics that you want to champion and make sure that the wine will shine instead of fighting against the food.
Bitter + Bitter = Bad Since our tastebuds are very sensitive to bitterness, it’s important to pay special attention to not pair bitter food and high tannin wine. Green Beans with Cabernet Sauvignon will multiply bitter tastes. If you want to pair a high tannin wine, look to foods with fat, umami and salt for balance.
Wine Should be Sweeter As a general rule, make sure that the wine is sweeter than the food and you will have a successful wine pairing. If the wine is less sweet than the food it’s matched with, it will tend to taste bitter and tart. This is why Port wine is perfect with dessert.
Wine Should be More Tart A wine should have higher acidity than the food it’s matched with otherwise it will taste flabby. For instance, a salad with vinaigrette is better with an extra brut Champagnethan a buttery Chardonnay.
Improve an Earthy Wine Ever hear that Old World Wine is better with food? On their own, Old World wines can be very earthy and tart. However, when you pair an earthy wine with something even more earthy like mushroom stroganoff, then the wine tastes more fruity.
Whether hosting a large event, holding an intimate dinner party or simply pouring yourself a glass with your meal, it is always useful to know a little bit about selecting the right wine. For some reason, there is something about food and wine pairing that can leave even the most confident foodie feeling completely out of his or her element. Did you know that chocolate is one of the hardest things to pair with wine? Or that asparagus contains methyl mercaptan, which gives wine a vegetal flavour? What about the fact that the tannins in red wine interact with the high iodine content in some seafood (like cod, mackerel and shellfish)resulting in a metallic and unpleasant taste?Wine Folly’s tips can help less-than-savvy wine drinkers navigate these complex waters – that are made even more confusing by the sheer number of international wines and modern cuisine’s fusion of ethnic styles and unusual ingredients in one dish!
To take it one step further, Wine Folly has created a handy chart on how to create the best pairings, based on the sommeliers’ principle of opposing taste profiles (e.g. sweet and sour). This chart is a helpful (and cute!) resource for your next event or dinner party. Also available as a poster, it makes the perfect gift for the wine-lover on your list!
So crack open a bottle (or two!) and try some of their suggestions out! After all, it’s all in the name of research, right?
Do you have any wine pairing tips or advice? Share your experiences with and/or recommendations of places to go for interesting food and wine pairings!