Everything You Need to Know About Wine & Food Pairing

Wine is pretty good. No, wine is pretty d*mn good. Even the doctors say drinking wine will make you live longer. Let’s face it, wine is probably one of the best things about life. But what makes wine even better? Food. Food makes many things better, including wine.

Forget everything you've ever learned about wine and food pairings. Erase it from your memory. Okay, maybe not everything, but the information I am about to tell to you will hopefully blow your mind. As you read this article, keep in mind that while I can be that wine snob, it truly is up to YOU to determine your palate preferences. This is simply a suggestion based on what science and experts have told us.

            Let’s establish some basic rules first. There are two different types of pairings: congruent and complimentary. Congruent flavors are flavors that share similar tastes components, such as mushrooms and steak. Complimentary flavors share opposing tastes, such as lime and coconut. Now we can break down our taste buds. We basically have five basic tastes. Those are sweet, salty, bitter, sour and fat. I did not include spicy in this list because it’s technically not considered a basic taste, but it does have a distinct profile when paired with wine. Figuring out how wine interacts with these tastes is where it gets both complicated and fascinating.

            The night before I wrote this article, my roommate and I did a wine and food pairing just to experiment. Back in December, I took a WSET (Wine & Spirit Education Trust) class and learned a lot about pairings. On a single plate, I set up five different types of food containing the five tastes. A doughnut for sweet, a lemon slice for sour, a piece of dark chocolate for bitter, fried chicken for fat and a pinch of salt for, you guessed it, salt. I also added a pinch of red pepper flakes to experiment with spicy. I poured a glass of sweet Riesling and a glass of a bold red called Tempranillo. I tried every food item along with both wines, one by one, and took notes. Here is what I discovered.

 

Salty & Acidic Are Easy to Pair With. Sweet & Fat, Not So Much

            With a sweet wine like Riesling, the lemon actually brought out more of the sweet and fruity flavors. With the Tempranillo, the bitterness of the wine was toned down. The salt had almost the same effect. The fried chicken brought down the acid of both wines a little too much and the taste of the wine was muddled. The doughnut was delicious by itself, but took a lot of the flavor away from the wine as well.

 

Spicy Food Is REALLY Hard to Pair With

            Every time I put a few pepper flakes on my tongue, it was spicy, as expected. But when I took a sip of wine afterwards, boy did the heat intensify! The alcohol in the wine actually intensifies the spiciness of any food you eat, so a good rule of thumb to go by is to try to pair spicy food with a super sweet wine that’s low in alcohol.

 

Honestly, Your Personal Preference IS the Truth

            This is why I did this experiment with my roommate. I essentially wanted another person’s point of view. For example, I enjoyed the doughnut with the bold red while he wasn’t a huge fan of it. Everyone has a different palate and what you eat or drink before tasting can affect your palate during the tasting.

 

       

Moral of the story? Salty and acidic foods typically amplify fruit and cut acid. Sweet foods amplify acid and take away fruit (hence why you should pair a super sweet wine with desserts). Fatty foods tend to take away from the flavor of the wine, so you want to go for a bold, acidic wine. Oh, and bitter foods such as asparagus pair well with wines that have similar herbaceous and citrus characteristics, such as Sauvignon Blanc. Next time you’re munching on a bag of potato chips, grab a bottle of Chardonnay. Craving cupcakes? Enjoy them with a bottle of Moscato. Hungry for pizza? Pair it with a bottle of Chianti. The best way to figure out what you like is to experiment. Next time you wine down, try something new with it.

 

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