Tag Archives: Wine Pairing

Spicy Food and Wine Pairing

Fermented Bean Curd

What can I pair with fermented bean curd, star of anise and fresno chilis?

French, Spanish and Italian food are easily matched with wine. But wine has been a part of their culture and cuisine for centuries. On the contrary, pairing wine with the Chinese, Mexican and Indian kitchens proves to be a little more difficult. In this post I will give you some tips on pairings for Peking duck, tacos or an Indian curry.

Many wines just don’t pair well with spicy dishes from Asia, the Middle East or Central America. Spiciness and high alcohol content found in wine don’t seem to go well together, especially when the high alcohol content leads to an increased burning sensation! Beer or cider usually pair much better; however I doubt if there is a dish we cannot combine with wine.

1. The best combination is made with wines which are fresh and crisp. The German and Alsatian varieties pair nicely with spicy food. Good choices include Gewurztraminer, Riesling, and Silvaner. Other whites you can try are Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Albariño or Verdejo from the region Rueda in northern Spain.

Sparkling and fizzy wine like champagne, cava or prosecco from Italy are also able to match the spiciness. I have a friend who reasons that you can drink champagne with everything. It’s the high acidity and the bubbles that are able to pair bubbly with almost all dishes.

Fresh and crisp wine are not merely the domain of the whites; there are some reds who can match the acidity of a good white. For example: Spanish Riojas, Italian Chiantis and old world style of Pinot Noirs from Burgundy, New Zealand or Oregon.

2. Another group of wine includes full wines with a lot of fruity flavours, but little tannins. American Zinfandels or Australian Shiraz, with a level of fruitiness match highly seasoned dishes. If you’re not so fond of this bold, powerful wine, try a Beaujolais Nouveaux or, if you can find it, a Joven wine from Rioja. They are refreshing and served best chilled like a rosé.

3. Avoid oaky Chardonnays, and tannic wines. Most chardonnays from the states are,  in my opinion, overly oaked: they taste oaky and are very fat and bold. These toasty flavours match poorly with the spiciness of a dish and the pairing will make the wine seem coarse and bitter. Cabernet Sauvignon and American Merlots aren’t any better. Their tannins set your mouth on fire when you combine it with chili-spiced dishes!

4. The spicier the food, the sweeter the wine.Here is my favorite companion for a spicy dish: a sweet wine, light in alcohol. The residual sugar in the wine will help to tame the burning sensation. Keep in mind: the spicier the food the sweeter the wine must be. However, Ice wine and noble late harvest wines are often so sweet that you can’t drink more than a glass or so; therefore I would save them for dessert.

As spicy asks for sweet, dry wine drinkers may feel a bit lost. There are, however, many wines to chose from. Try a medium-sweet Chardonnay with Peking duck, and a (medium) sweet Riesling from Washington or Oregon is delicious with Chinese or Thai food. My personal favorite however is a medium-sweet gewürztraminer with Indian lamb curry. And when I really have something to celebrate, I choose a sweet sparkling wine (demi-sec or doux/sweet). Give it a try, you will love it!


Food and Wine Pairing… Continued

Food and Wine from Chicago Gourmet

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.


Food and Wine Pairing

Wine Pairing

How to Pair a Wine with your Meal

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…