Even if you’re not a Michelin-starred chef (or any type of cook, for that matter!), chances are that you’ve dabbled in the kitchen at some point in time. One thing most people have in common is a love of great food, and in some people’s opinion, including ours, nothing is better than great food when accompanied with great wine! When you're the one who's gone to the effort to create the dish, you want to be sure it'll be as yummy as possible.
As you probably know, not all wines are a great match for all foods, and although fine on their own, the subtle flavours of one or the other can be either heightened or ruined. We’ve covered basic food and wine pairings in a previous blog post, but we thought it’d be worth getting a little more in-depth and to arm you with even more information.
So, what’s the shortcut easy way to figuring out which wines go with which foods, including when you’re eating out at a restaurant?
Turns out there are a total of six basic ‘flavour profiles’ that can be mixed and matched between different types of foods and wines. These main profiles are:
This immediately sounds confusing, but remember that cooking is simply a balance of fat, acid, salt and sweet. Your wine label should tell you how dominant the tannins (bitterness), acidity and sweetness rate as well, it will also state the percentage of alcohol content.
Pairing by region
It might be easier than you think to pair foods with wines according to their region. Mainly because it’s a golden rule of thumb that’s easy to get right! Think of this: an Italian red wine such a Primitivo, and a hearty bowl of pasta… or an Argentinian Malbec with a charcoal barbecue steak asado. So simple! A word of warning though: regional matches don’t always make for a perfect pair, but what they do provide is a template. When you remember that wine is an agricultural product, it makes sense that the flavours predominant in the wine usually fare well with the typical flavours in the foods of the region it comes from.
Pairing by flavour profile
Acid + Acid
Unlike bitterness, acidity can be stacked: match your acidic food with your acidic wine, but do so carefully. If the food has more acidity than the wine, the wine will end up tasting flat. Think, for example, a glass of oaky chardonnay with a balsamic vinaigrette salad - you’d lose the nuances in the wine quite easily as the salad dressing would overpower the flavours in the wine. When wine pairing, consider the acidic balance of the two elements.
Sweet + Salty
It’s a famed matching, when you think about it - peanut butter and jam, maple-cured bacon, salted caramel (now our mouths are watering...!). Naturally, these flavours extend to wine and food pairing: try a sweet wine with a salty food as an experiment, for example a Gewurztraminer with a spicy Thai dish like Pad Kee Mao. A more extreme version would be to take this literally: try pretzels with a fortified wine like marsala or port and you might be pleasantly surprised!
Bitterness + Bitterness
Let’s sum this one up in saying that bitterness isn’t a great friend of bitterness. Despite what is commonly said, heavily tannic red wines can taste imbalanced when paired with dark chocolate - so it’s worthwhile being careful. Generally speaking, when you feel fat on the middle of your tongue, it helps balance out the bitterness.
Bitter + Fat
Now we’re talking! Grab a thick piece of marbled wagyu and pair it with a wine with lots of tannin, like an Australian Shiraz or a Cabernet Sauvignon. The classic ‘steak with red wine’ pairing is an easy win here, but you can get even more specific, if you’re feeling up to it. Red wines like Italian Sangiovese have big cherry flavours, which can be matched well with roasted tomato flavours, in addition to the steak or a fattier side dish like croquettes. Pull this off and you suddenly you have a meal that has the tannin balanced with the fat, as well as similar flavours across the food and the wine (cherry and tomato) - in turn elevating each other. YUM.
Acid + Fat
A high-acid wine such as Champagne does well with fat, as it cuts right through it and the flavours become clear. Any high acid wine will actually add other interesting flavours to a fattier or heavy dish. This is exactly why creamy white wine sauces work so well: the white wine in the creamy, buttery sauce works together so well. The next time you’re in a situation where someone is serving cheesecake, grab a glass of something bubbly and fresh. Delicious!
Alcohol + Fat
The ‘alcohol’ profile can be tricky, as the taste of alcohol can come across as acidity. For this reason, a lot of the points in the ‘acid + fat’ category also apply here. The main difference is that a wine high in alcohol should not be used as a palate-cleanser because that is quite frankly dangerous! It’s better to look at this as a way to aviod shovelling down your food. A glass of 15% alcohol Shiraz will greatly slow down the rate at which you mow through your pepper steak… eat slower and enjoy it longer.
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