So, the story of my life! I am invited to a dinner and wine, of course, is the accompanying drink! Great! I love that! But what do you know? Suddenly, while I am tasting my food and sipping my wine, something doesn’t feel right! The wine seems to taste flat and metallic or the food feels absolutely bitter. Why is that? Well, hello hello! The wine and food combinations were not right ones!
However, don’t you wish you knew some rules that will help you avoid experiences like mine?
How about we get down to some rules that will help you decide on the right wine and food combinations? And maybe if you are throwing a dinner party for New Year’s Eve, surprise everyone with an excellent choice! Quite of a good start for the New Year, isn’t it?
Let’s see then some rules for pairing wine with food and make it happen!
Rule No #1: Same Region For Food And Wine (Regional)!
According to this rule, you can match food and wine that come from the same region and have a good result. The combination is not always excellent but it works as a charm for the majority of choices. Plus, it is an easy method to remember and follow as well. If you get to imagine that most of the times the same culture characteristics define the taste of wine and food, well, it actually makes sense! Just keep in mind, the same the region of food, the same the region of wine. Piece of cake! French food – French wine, Spanish food – Spanish wine, and so on.
Give it a try and see if this rule applies! It will set off as a good start for you in wine and food pairing.
Rule No #2: Fight Acid With Acid!
Remember when we talked about acidity in wines? The higher the pH, the lower the acidity and likewise, the lower the pH, the higher the acidity? (I really hope you do) You see, it makes a common rule when trying to find the perfect match for food that if it is high in acidity, you should go for a wine high in acidity as well. But why is that? Well, it is for the sake of balance of course! What I mean is that if you try a wine that is high in acidity and then taste some kind of food that is low in acidity, then the food pairing will seem tasteless to you and vice versa, and that is no good! However, if you get to have a pairing of the same acidity level, then you will have a balanced, delicious and worthy experience. The more you will taste your wine, the more you will like your food and the more you like your food, the greater the wine will taste!
A good rule! Go for it!
Rule No #3: Sweet And Salty? Not So Bad After All!
Sweet wine and salty food actually do match. It is commonly known that sweet wines usually make a good combination with desserts, however, some wines make an even better one with salty food. That actually happens because the saltier the food is, the sweeter the wine will taste. Though there is a contrast in these tastes, it is exactly this contrast that makes the experience more intense. After all, have you ever tried salted caramels? Well, it is more or less of about the same concept! Why not?
By the way, take a look again to the sweetness level definition for still and sparkling wines:
|Sweetness Level Definition (Still Wines)||Amount of Sugar (Residual)|
|Brut Nature||0-3 grams per litre|
|Extra Brut||0-6 grams per litre|
|Brut||0-12 grams per litre|
|Extra Dry||12-17 grams per litre|
|Dry||17-32 grams per litre|
|Demi-Sec||32-50 grams per litre|
|Doux||50+ grams per litre|
Rule No #4: Say Yes to Tannic Wines With Fatty Foods But No to Tannic Wines With Bitter Foods!
Do tannic wines ring a bell? Remember how we talked about tannins in wine and protein in food? That is exactly the principle that applies! As we have already mentioned, tannins in wine absorb proteins in general. The proteins in our saliva are a quite easy example to mention. So when you pair a wine high in tannins with a fatty protein food, such as lamb, then the food absorbs the tannins and their bitterness, and the taste is simply exquisite! Tannins and fat create such a harmonious balance and it is one of the most commonly used and applicable rules in restaurants and dinner options.
Tannic wines with bitter food, on the other hand, are no good. You see bitter food makes the bitterness of wine tannins even stronger in the mouth and therefore, it would be wise to not really attempt such a combination.
Why don’t you try tasting a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Montepulciano or a Petite Sirah along with a fatty protein food and you will see what I mean?
Rule No #5: Acid Pairs Well With Fat!
Acidity in wine creates that feeling of crisp and tartness in the mouth. Fatty foods, on the other hand, evoke a feeling of fullness, a sense of heaviness in the mouth. Nonetheless, if you pair a wine high in acidity and a fatty food, the wine will “cut” that heavy sense of the fatty food and it will taste lighter and delightful.
Rule No #6: The Higher The Alcohol, The Less The Fat!
It is actually true! The higher the alcohol content in a wine, the less the fatty food you eat. Let’s elaborate a bit more, though. Although, acid works as slow down factor, as far as the heavy taste of fat is concerned, when it comes to alcohol and fat, the alcohol acts as a slow down factor to the speed you are eating fat. So, in case you are drinking a high alcohol wine and you match it with a fatty food, you will literally be able to control the amount of fatty food you are currently eating. Unbelievable, I know! But it actually works!
So how about I reminded you the alcohol levels and give you some examples of wines of high alcohol content?
|Low||Below 10% Alcohol By Volume|
|Low to Medium||From 10% to 11.5% Alcohol By Volume|
|Medium||From 11.5% to 13.5% Alcohol By Volume|
|Medium to High||From 13.5% to 15% Alcohol By Volume|
|High||Above 15% Alcohol By Volume|
Some Wines High In Alcohol
- Syrah / Shiraz
Rule No #7: A Dessert Wine Should Be Sweeter Than The Dessert Itself!
Sweet wines are the perfect match for desserts! Have you ever tasted though a sweet wine that is actually less sweet than the dessert it accompanies? Didn’t it feel like the wine did not fulfill your expectations? Probably! However, that does not mean that the wine sucks, it just means that it should have been accompanied will a less sweet wine. Think about it for a bit. What happened is that both the dessert and wine raced in the same characteristic but with the dessert taking the lead. This is why the dessert wine (sweet wine) should always be sweeter than the dessert itself.
Rule No #8: The Weight Of Wine Should Match The Weight Of Food!
When we talk about the “weight” of wine we refer to the body of a wine of course. What this rule actually dictates is that a light bodied, medium bodied or full-bodied wine should be paired with a dish of equal weight. For example, a red meat meal, a heavy food choice should be accompanied with a full-bodied wine and not one of light or medium body. Conversely, a light dish such as fish should be accompanied by a light bodied wine. The whole idea of a matching weight between the wine and the food has the purpose of balance between those two parts of the equation. In this way, both of the components will complement rather than overwhelm one another.
Take a look at a few wines of different types of body…
|Light Bodied Wines||Champagne||Dolcetto||Pinot Blanc||Pinot Noir|
|Medium Bodied Wines||Barbera||Cabernet Franc||Chinon||Sauvignon Blanc|
|Full Bodied Wines||Barolo||Gewürztraminer||Sagniovese||Sauternes
Rule No #9: Match The Flavors Of The Wine According To Those Commonly Paired With A Dish!
Well, that rule makes sense in the way that a dish that is usually matched, for example, with a plum sauce, then the wine to pair it with should be one that has a taste or flavor of plum, like Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon. Same applies for the different kinds of herbs used in a meal. So try to match the commonly used flavors in a dish, to the tastes of a wine. Maybe the following list will help you with the tastes of some of the most well-known wines.
Red Wine Fruity Flavors
- Cabernet Sauvignon: Blackberry, Black Currant, Plum, Raspberry
- Gamay: Tart Cherry and Raspberry
- Malbec: Blueberry, Sugar Plum
- Merlot: Plum, Black Cherry and Jam
- Pinot Noir: Cherry, Cranberry, Raspberry, Strawberry
- Shiraz /Syrah: Blackberry, Blueberry
- Tempranillo: Cherry, Plum
- Zinfandel: Blackberry, Blueberry, Raspberry, Strawberry
White Wine Fruity Flavors
- Chardonnay: Apple, Peach, Pear
- Chenin Blanc: Apple, Mango, Passion fruit, Tangerine
- Gewürztraminer: Grapefruit, Orange, Peach
- Pinot Gris / Pinot Grigio: Green Apple, White Nectarine, White Peach
- Riesling: Apple, Pear, Pineapple, Nectarine
- Sauvignon Blanc: Green Melon, White Peach, Passion Fruit
- Semillon: Apple, Grapefruit, Mango, Pear
- Viognier: Mango, Nectarine, Pineapple
Rule No #10: Keep Your Eyes Open For Vinaigrette And Spicy Food!
Here is why: Vinaigrette is so intense that can easily make a wine taste flat and we definitely do not want that. Try to make a vinaigrette with a more inherent sweetness to avoid that. Hot and spicy foods can “distress” your taste buds so you will need a cool wine to get them back to normal. Try full-bodied white wines or even Champagne to do that.
Rule No #11: Balance Is The Key! Contrast Or Complement?
The basis for wine and food combination is to always keep the balance and harmony among the tastes of the two components. As you have probably understood by now, one cannot “overflow” the other as one of them will eventually feel flat, whichever that is. We aim for both the wine and the food pairing, to create a combination that will offer us a great experience.
However, have you noticed that in most of the above rules we use two patterns to achieve that goal exactly? I am talking about the Contrast and Complement strategies. Let me explain a bit more on that.
- Contrast Strategy: According to this strategy, the main idea is to match contrasting flavors and traits in order to combine a lot of elements together. The combination of sweet wine and salty food is one of the rules, formed in the concept of the contrast strategy. The acidity and fat combination also falls under the prism of contrast. This strategy was not particularly favored for wine and food combination until the 1980’s when experimenting on different pairing started to really take off.
- Complement Strategy: This strategy focuses on wine and food complementing one another. Rule No 9 is based on this strategy, where the flavors of the wine should match with the ones traditionally meant to accompany a certain dish. Rule No 8, same weight wine, same weight food, is also formed in terms of the complementary strategy. This strategy has been used for the longest part of the history of wine and food combination, in fact, it was the primary one before the contrast strategy emerged.
As you will be able to see, all of the aforementioned rules were formed according to these two strategies. You can use both of them to experiment, same wines and different food pairings or even same dishes but different wines. Try it as your concept of what matches will spread and you will be able to discover and practically understand traits of wines that you couldn’t before. It’s all about mix and match!
So, To Wrap Things Up…
Try following some of these rules to see how they work out in order to make great wine and food combinations, and more important experiment so that you can see what works out best for your palate and taste. Whether you eventually prefer the rules based on the Contrast or the Complement Strategy, or even both of them, it really doesn’t matter as long as try all of them to see where you stand taste wise, help others make better choices for wine and food combinations and prevent your mouth from some really unfortunate experiences.
Hope that covers it up! Happy New Year everybody!!
Do you think there are other basic rules that I should have mentioned in this post? If you do, pease take a minute and refer to them in the comments…Balance Is The Key! Contrast Or Complement? Click To Tweet