Wines have become rounder, sweeter in the last couple of decades. I call it the soft drink-effect: we are so used to sweet and easy-to-drink drinks that anything with high acidity and a bit of roughness is rejected by the ‘sweet’ consumers. Last week I did a small experiment with a couple of friends. I served them two glasses of the same red wine, in one of them however I added a tiny bit of sugar solution. You can guess the result: 4 out of 5 preferred the sweetened one (I was the one not liking it). I personally don’t like too sweet of wine, as I feel it becomes rounder and softer, but loses its complexity and its flavours often get masked.
The reason for this change toward easier to drink wine is that in many countries it is no longer a food product, but an alcoholic drink and luxury good. In the past wine was consumed over dinner or lunch. However, when you drink a wine on its own it seems to be much more acidic than when combined with food; and the tannins in red wine seems to be more astringent and dry.
The same dry Riesling can be too sour on its own, but refreshing with a dish. This is because the salt in the food diminishes the perception of acidity. This explains why food orientated wines are more acid than non-food wines. So we should select one bottle when drinking wine on its own and choose another when drinking wine with our food.
In my last post I spoke about food and wine pairing by intensity and the heaviness. This was all relatively easy, now we are really going to get into food and wine pairing; we are going to select the wine on flavour. We can do this by combining similar flavours or contrasting flavours.
Combining similar flavours is the easiest. For example we can combine a rich, fat, oaky chardonnay with a buttery sauced dish, and we can serve a sweet wine with our ice cream. Two similar tastes seem to harmonize with each other, instead of increasing the sensation.
- A dry acidic Riesling with a sweet and sour dish
- A smokey oaky wine with smoked fish or smoked beef
- A sweet Sauterne or Tokaji with a chocolate cake
- Match asparagus with a herbal Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand
- An earthy Pinot Noir with Mushrooms
Combining opposite flavours is a bit trickier. We have to be more careful not to exaggerate. The best way to prevent failure is to choose a wine that is a bit lighter than the food.
- Foie gras with a dry sparkling wine like Champagne, cava or American sparkling wine
- Popcorn, yes, you read it well, with any sparkling wine
- A fresh tart wine like Chenin Blanc, Verdejo or Txakoli with oily fish like mackerel, trout or sardines
Pairing wine and food is a game, you just have to follow a couple of rules to make it a success; furthermore you just have to try it to find out what your personal preferences are.