Now we all know the age old rule of pairing red wine with red meat and white wine with white meat. While that does apply as a simple thumb rule, a lot many other factors go into pairing wine and food. We need to think about the dish as a whole and not single out one element to pair the wine with. We need to think about the dominant flavours in the dish like:
- Is it mild or heavy on flavours?
- It is lean or fatty?
- Is it rich or acidic?
- Is it sweet or spicy?
As complicated as that sounds, if you keep a few simple rules in mind you are sure to enjoy your food and wine.
1) The style of cooking or preparation method: This plays an important role as the preparation method makes a great deal of difference in the way food tastes. For eg: boiled or mildly flavoured chicken will taste very different from roasted chicken or tandoori chicken. So while you may pair a white wine with mildly flavoured chicken dishes, you can enjoy light to medium bodied reds with roasted or tandoori chicken. Cold dishes like salads or sushi pair wonderfully with lighter white wines like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, unoaked Chardonnay.
2) Sauces: Just like how the sauce or gravy can make or break a dish, the wine paired with it will do the same. For example: Creamy, rich sauces work well with aromatic whites like an oaked Chardonnay. Sauces with herbs work well with Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier. Mushroom based sauces have an earthiness to them that make medium red wines a great pairing. Fruit sauces like a cranberry sauce work with light bodied fruity reds like a Zinfandel or Pinot Noir. Heavier sauces like black pepper or tikka masala work well with heavier spicier reds like a Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon. Asian or Indian flavours work well with off dry Riesling & Gewurztraminer.
3) Fat content: Fat content in a food requires a refreshing crisp wine that cuts through the fat and acts as a palate cleanser. For example: Fried Chicken & Sparkling wine is an unusual but a great combination.
4) Sweet Foods: Always remember to pair a sweeter wine with a dessert so that the wine doesn’t taste tart or acidic. You can pair a sweet Riesling with Apple Pie.
5) Opposite Flavours: Port Wine and Blue Cheese is a classic pairing. The intense, savoury flavours of the cheese work well with the rich sweetness of the wine. It’s like cherries and cream in your mouth. Other examples include Sauternes – a sweet rich white wine from France – and Foie Gras.
We can go on and on about wine and food pairings but at the end of the day it is all subjective. You may pair food and wine according to your personal tastes but following these simple rules will definitely make sure you stay out of the disaster zone. So go on! It’s all about experimenting and discovering it for yourself!