The flavors of wine are the results of specific components: sugar, acid, fruit, tannin and alcohol. Food also has flavor components, such as fat, acid, salt, sugar and bitter. A successful food and wine pairing features complementary or contrasting components.
Equipped with the knowledge of grape varieties and their distinct flavors, and keeping in mind the 6 food elements that make both red wine and white wine pairings work, you’re on your way to becoming a master of wine and food pairing.
Fatty foods need either an acidic or high alcohol wine, otherwise the wine will taste flabby.
If you’re eating a relatively rich, ‘fatty’ dish like a prime rib, and thinking about drinking a red wine, you should look for a wine with some good tannins in it to help cleanse the palate.
If you’re eating a rich, ‘fatty’ dish like fried chicken, and thinking about drinking a white wine, you can contrast the meal with a refreshingly crisp acidic wine such as a Sauvignon Blanc to cleanse the palate. Keep in mind though, that rich cream sauces will usually clash with an acidic wine like a Sauvignon Blanc. Think about it this way…If you squeezed lemon juice into a cup of milk, would it taste good?
When pairing wine with an acidic dish, you should make sure that the acidity of the wine is at least equal to that of the food in order to keep up with the acids in the food, or the wine will appear bland and washed out. Try cooking some of the wine into the dish to help the flavors of the wine shine through.
Salty foods make wine pairings somewhat challenging, as salt can make some wine taste harsh while stripping the fruit and adding bitterness. For those who enjoy sweet and salty snacks, try bleu or gorgonzola cheese with sweet and nutty accompaniments such as fruit, almonds, and spices such as ginger help balance the saltiness. Pair these combinations with a red wine such as Amberhill Secret Red, and you’ll find a contrast that will have you going back for seconds.
Also, salty fried foods pair well with sparkling wines and champagne. The carbonation and yeasty acids clean the salt from your palate, while adding more interesting textures from the bubbles. Acidic wines have this same cleansing effect on the palate after eating such foods as salty oysters.
When it comes to dessert, the wine must taste sweeter than the dessert; otherwise the dessert will strip the wine of its sweetness and it will appear to be bitter or tart.
Red wine and chocolate are often a combination that pair well together, as long as the chocolate is not sweeter than the wine. Pair a bitter dark chocolate with a sweet red wine and it is a perfect pair, but pair a sweet chocolate cake with a dry red cabernet, and you will not be as pleased.
Many cultures perceive bitterness as unpleasant and although it is accepted in some, for most wine pairings, they should be avoided. In wine, bitterness usually results from unripe grapes, or mishandled fermentation tanks or barrels. When bitterness in wine meets bitterness in food, one does not cancel out the other; they simply combine.
As for matching textures, think in terms of weight. Light foods are best with light wine and heavy foods with heavy wine. If you would like to experiment with contrast: matching light foods to heavy wine and heavy food to light wine, it will require a bit of trial and error to avoid having the lighter flavors over-shadowed by the heavier ones.
When In Doubt…
Remember that foods generally go best with the wines they grew up with. So if you’re eating Italian food, think about having an Italian wine. This isn’t a requirement, but often helps simplify the decision. However, the most important rule of all is to trust your own palate and enjoy!
Need a place to start? See our recipes on this page for our very own Amberhill Wine Pairings.