I love to have wine with my food; even if it’s a sandwich with ham and cheese. My housemates laugh when they see me at lunchtime with my glass of wine. By American standards I will probably be called an alcoholic, but I don’t care. I love my glass of wine; for me it enhances the whole eating experience. Don’t get me wrong, I still prefer to drink coffee with my breakfast, although sometimes ……. I have some champagne with my toast. To help you enjoy your food and wine as much as I do, I want to teach you some things about food and wine pairing.
Everybody knows the traditional old rules of drinking white wine with fish and white meat, red wine with red meat, champagne as an aperitif, and port or sweet wine with the dessert. Furthermore, young wine should be served before old wine, and dry wine before sweet wine. These rules are still pretty much valuable for most meals. However, even if we follow these basic rules we still have some flexibility. To make your next dinner an even greater success, here are two additional rules that may help you choose a wine for your meal.
First rule: combining food and wine by weight. When combining food and wine we first have to look at the heaviness of the food. A salad, fish, or my ham and cheese sandwich is much lighter than a piece of red meat or a stew. The difference is not one of protein or carbohydrates; the weight or heaviness of a dish is simply related to the amount of fat. Fatty foods give you the sensation of richness and texture. It makes you feel satisfied and full after dinner. The wine has to match the weight of the food; so heavy food with heavy wine and visa versa. For example foie gras is very rich and will need a wine with a lot of weight and volume like a noble late harvest wine from Sauterne or Tokaji to balance it. However, at lunch with my ham and cheese sandwich I prefer to drink a fresh, young and light white wine.
A heavy wine can be a ripe red wine with higher alcohol and more material (tannins, glycerol, acid) like a ripe Shiraz from Australia, a red from Bordeaux or a Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa. Or it can be a mouth filling white wine, like an oak-aged Chardonnay or a sweet noble-late-harvest wine from Sauterne or Tokaji with residual sugars. The alcohol, oak aging process and the sweetness of the wine give weight and heaviness to the wine.
Fat makes food delicious, but it also has another effect, it reduces the astringent sensation of tannins in red wine. I hear many… mainly woman (my girlfriend is one of them), complain about the astringency of red wine. I love oak aged, red wine with body and structure. So what I tend to do is to serve my ‘astringent’ lovely red with rich and oily food, and then my girlfriend loves it! I believe there is no such thing as a ‘bad’ wine; it’s just a matter of enjoying them at the right moment and combining them with the right food.
Second rule: combine food and wine by intensity. Besides pairing on weight we also have to look at the aroma intensity of the dish and the wine. The rule is simple: the wine has to match the strongest flavour of the dish. The strongest flavour is most often given by the sauce and the spices used in the food. You can serve a turkey in a delicious butter sauce with light Chardonnay (non- oaked) from Chablis or Oregon but if you serve a turkey in a strong pepper sauce you should match the intensity of the pepper with a full bodied Cabernet Sauvignon from Napa or Chile.
Next time more about food and wine pairing…