Whether you work in a restaurant or just enjoy dining out, chances are the thought of selecting wine pairings might make you feel queasy. You are not alone.
Many people find choosing wine a stressful task, but it doesn’t have to be. Think of wine as an ingredient in the recipe for your meal, not an independent course. When selecting a wine pairing you’ll know when it works because it will taste as good or better when enjoyed with that dish as it does alone. The following guidelines will help narrow your choices and create stress free pairings for your guest or just a night out on the town.
Match “like weights”
Specifically, match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food—light fare with lighter bodied, more delicate wines, and fuller bodied wines with bigger foods. This is one of the food and wine concepts that is most intuitive. Most of us wouldn't think to order a light, fruity Sauvignon Blanc with a fillet mignon. Conversely, a glass of hearty Cabernet Sauvignon doesn’t go well with a delicate seafood salad. Think of a boxing match—would you put a heavyweight in the ring with a featherweight? The wine and food should work together not overpower each other.
Think of your pairing strategy—Contrast or complement?
We have all heard the sayings “opposites attract,” or the converse, “complementary partners make the best matches.”
Sound like relationship advice? Well it is, but these rules also create successful food and wine pairings. Contrasting uses diverse flavors to enhance the differences; whereas complementary matches flavors to enhance the similarities. Think of a seafood dish in a creamy sauce. You could complement it with a rich, buttery Chardonnay or contrast it with a crisper white like Pinot Gris.
Salt needs Acid
Acid in wine is that tangy or sour sensation you get on your tongue. That pucker factor is found in crisp wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Albariño to name a few. Salty foods neutralize or soften acidity in a wine and need to be paired with higher acid wines. Most meals should have wines with at least moderate acidity. If the dish is particularly salty or briny, e.g., oysters, crabs, pickled items, etc.—look for crisp or higher acid wines.
Fats Soften Tannins
Tannins are naturally astringent substances found in grape skins, as well as other foods like walnuts. Tannins are perceived in our mouths as a sense of dryness. Reds with firmer tannins are a natural pairing with a fattier dish like red meat, cheese or stew. Try a Cabernet Sauvignon with a bite of steak and notice how the tannins soften in your wine. Bold reds pair nicely with heartier dishes—Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec or Syrah.
Sweet with Spicy
Fruity or sweeter wines tone down spicy foods, whereas high alcohol, dry wines intensify the heat of spices. If you are serving spicy cuisine you need to find wines that are fruity and even a bit sweet to counteract. Whites that work with spicy food include lush whites like Riesling, Viognier, Gewürztraminer or Sauvignon Blanc. Reds that pair nicely with spicy dishes include fruity, lower tannin wines such as Beaujolais, Pinot Noir or Shiraz.
In the end wine pairing is subject to personal taste. Chances are you and your guests won’t always agree on what the best pairing is for each course but these rules can simplify selecting wine pairings and improve the dining experience.