Wine & Food Matching

My objective in writing this article you should have a greater appreciation for both food and wine as well as the main elements of wine and food matching.

My greatest passion as a Chef and as a diner is matching food with wine as it allows me to fully enhance the complete dining experience.  This is achieved simply by matching certain elements such as texture and flavour in both the food and wine.  Finding the right combination of these elements will interact with each other and your taste buds will enjoy the results. The most straightforward component of food and wine matching is to understand the balance between the "weight" of the food and the weight/body of the wine. What you want to achieve in matching wine and food is simple. You want to match the texture of the wine to the texture of the food.

Having a thorough wine knowledge certainly helped my steep learning curve as a chef progress at much greater rate as I understood the textures and flavors of both. Food simply tastes much better with wine as cuisine reaches their ultimate tasting heights. As a restaurateur and wine writer I learnt to understand wine varieties, how they taste, their textures, flavours, essences, aromas and as a chef what food they perfectly compliment. Every single dish ever cooked has its perfect wine match and will enhance both the wine varietal and the food to a new higher level of appreciation. Every time you serve a dish with wine you should be thinking about what would be the best possible wine match.

To achieve the best wine match it is necessary to analyze the basic components in both the wine and the food. The principal is to try and balance them so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other. The main elements of food and wine matching to consider are weight, flavour intensity and characteristics, acidity, salt, tannin, and sweetness. It is essential to remember the basic food and wine matching rules that lighter foods will always go well with lighter style wines and contrastingly richer food combinations will suit heavier styles of wine.

1. Match with weight

Try and match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine such as rich heavyweight foods, like red meat casseroles with full bodied wines.

Normally it is powerful red wines that are the favored choice but it is the weight of the wine, not the colour or flavour, which is the most important consideration. Hence a full-bodied white wine is usually a better match with meat than alight-styled red wine.

2. The Flavour Intensity

Although the flavour intensity is similar to weight, it’s not the same thing. A big bowl of boiled pasta or potatoes without a dressing or sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavour. As opposed to red or green bell peppers which are lightweight but very flavoursome.  The same goes for wines; the Riesling variety makes lightweight, intensely flavoured wines whilst Chardonnay makes heavy (full-bodied) wines that are lightly flavoured.

3. Matchfull flavours

Matchfull flavours together with a similar flavour intensity, like Sauvignon Blanc and asparagus, mild flavours like Champagne and oysters.

Quite often it is not the main ingredient in a dish that provides the dominant flavour: In a creamy chicken curry, the sauce will be heavier and more robustly flavoured than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.

4. Light-weight Food

Lightweight food like poultry and fish are complimented by more delicate whites whilst a white wine is the instinctive choice a light, low-tannin red also work really well.

5. The Dominant Flavour

Quite often it is not the main ingredient in a dish that provides the dominant flavour: In a creamy chicken curry, the sauce will be heavier and more robustly flavoured than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.

Flavour Characteristics

The flavour characteristics of some foods and wines are very similar and consequently they make good combinations:

1. Add a Little

Having a little of the same wine you are drinking in the food you are eating helps such as drinking Burgundy with Beef Bourguignonne.

2. Spicy Dishes

Spicy dishes can be matched with Gewürztraminer a variety often described as spicy or . Gruner Veltiner (Spicy wines may have white or black pepper, cloves, ginger, allspice aromas and flavours for example.)

3. Fruit-based

Light fruit-based desserts can be matched with the "grapey" flavour of the Muscat variety.

4. Creamy & Buttery Sauces

Cream or butter sauces go well with wines that have been fermented or aged in new oak barrels. Oak imparts vanilla-scented, buttery, creamy flavours to the wine.

5. Delicately flavored wines

Delicately flavoured wines like Italian whites (Vementino, Pinot Grigio, Gavi, Soave, Verdicchio, Orvieto) and Loire Muscatel compliment shellfish and seafood

Acidity

1. Complement Fatty Foods

High acid wines complement fatty foods in the same way that lemon cuts through the greasiness of smoked salmon.

3. Tomatoes, Citrus, Green Apples

Food and wine can both have acidity. Tomatoes, citrus and green apples are high-acid foods. Certain grape varieties naturally produce high-acid wines, Muscadet for example.

2. A Squeeze of Lemon

When vinegar or lemon juice is used as a condiment you will need to find a high-acid wine to complement it. A classic example is Champagne served with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon.

4. Cool or Hot Climates

Wines from cool climates will have more acidity than those from hot climates

5. Cleanse the Palate

High-acid wines are also used to cleanse the palate when eating oily food.

6. Oiliness of the Fish

Even without the lemon, smoked salmon is made more palatable when the Champagne cuts through the natural oiliness of the fish.

7. Italiano

In Italy where many dishes are made with lots of olive oil you will find the majority of Italian Red wines have noticeable acidity and so complement the regional dishes perfectly: Think of Barbera, Chianti, Montepulciano, Brunello di Montalcino, Valpolicella, and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano.

8. Their Natural Acidity

In the wines mentioned just before, their natural acidity matches the acid characteristic also found in the tomato sauce whilst cutting through the olive oil.

Salt

1. Hint of Sweetness

Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness.  Parma Ham and Melon is a classic example.

2. Lusciously Sweet Wine

The same thing can be achieved with wine; Sauternes, a lusciously sweet wine from the Bordeaux region, is a famous match with salty, Roquefort cheese.

3. Salt & Tannin

Whilst salt clashes with tannin (it makes tannin seem more bitter), it works miracles with acidity: An example of this would be salty nibbles served with Champagne before a meal.

4. Low Tannins

For a dry wine to work with salty food it should have low tannins & noticeable acidity. It is easier to find White wines with these characteristics than Reds, but there are some Red wines to fit the bill, Beaujolais is a perfect example.

Tannin

1. More Texture

The more textured the food (e.g. fatty – like duck, chewy - like steak) the more tannin you need in the wine.

2. Tannins & Gums

Tannins cause your gums to pucker and dry when you drink wine. Typically detected in Red wines (tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks used in red wine-making).

3. High-tannin Wine

Grape varieties vary enormously in tannin content: Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec’s, Tannat all have very thick skin and so it can make deeply coloured, and high-tannin wine

4. Drinking Tannic Wines

Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins: Your saliva is full of protein molecules and this is why your gums pucker and dry when drinking tannic wines. Lamb is a good example of a food with a high-fatty protein content which when eaten coats the mouth with fat.

5. Refreshed & Cleansed

If you then drink a tannic Red wine the tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules and strip them from your mouth, leaving it feeling refreshed and cleansed and ready for the next mouthful.

Sweetness

1. Sweeter than Food

The wine should always be sweeter than the food. Sweetness in wine also acts as a foil to rich foods.

2. Over-acidic & Tart

Sweet foods make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart.

3. Sweet as or Sweeter

The general rule of thumb is to serve a wine at least as sweet as or sweeter than the food being served.

4. Port with Stilton

Sweetness also balances salt and so sweet wines are classic companions of blue cheeses e.g.  Port with Stilton.

5. Complement the Richness

Sweet wines with a good level of acidity, such as Sauternes, Barsac and Coteaux du Layon are a perfect match for rich foods like pâté, Foie gras. The acidity will cut through the fat in the pâté and the wine's sweetness will complement the richness of this food.

Chardonnay is the most versatile food wine

1. Heavier Chardonnay

A heavier Chardonnay style should be matched with - creamy sauces, BBQ seafood, veal, chicken & herb pies, Beurre blanc sauces, lobster, Singapore Crab, subtle white meat casseroles, summer antipasto’s, full of marinated goodies.

2. Absence of Spice

However you will notice the absence of spice with Chardonnay. Because of its acidity Chardonnay does not drink well with spice/chillie under any circumstances

3. It Does Change

As the style and flavour of chardonnay changes so much it is very easy to match it with food.

4. Lighter Chardonnays

For younger lighter style chardonnays match it with any lightly cooked seafood, pan fried fish, any shell fish or even fish and chips as it will cut through the grease and make them more enjoyable to eat.

5. Creamy & Buttery

My personal favourite is roast chicken with nice creamy gravy and a Chardonnay that has had a bit of time in the bottle so it has developed a rich creamy, buttery texture and flavour. Add some cream, mushrooms and a little of the wine to your normal gravy that you make at home and you will find it is a perfect match as it will cut through the cream and revitalize the palate. Chardonnay is also great with pastas, salads, soups, grilled vegetables as well as dairy, cheese or butter.

Champagne

1. Matching is very Simple

Matching food and wine is very simple but many people get it very wrong very easily especially with Champagne. It is essential that there are the same qualities and balances in the food that is also found in the wine.

2. Are You An Oyster Lover

If you are an Oyster lover for instance and I asked you to describe what it is about the Oyster you love I am sure you would say that they are fresh, lively, juicy and full of life and flavour. In finding a wine to match that oyster I can look no further than Champagne especially with caviar.

3. Salmon, Chicken & Whitebait

Champagne is great with any light canapés such as smoked salmon, BBQ chicken skewers, white bait fritters etc.

4. Veal, Pork or Chicken

Champagne is great with Veal, Pork or Chicken with lighter sauces are a great match as is prawns or lobster for that special occasion.

5. Cooking with Champagne

Cooking with Champagne is fun as it is yeasty and is generally acidic enough for cream sauces. By adding it to your sauce it will perfectly match any dish as long as you keep the sauce quite light. It is also great for Bisques or lighter style soups. Just add a little the next time you make a soup and then drink the same bubbles with it and you

 

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