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Boost your confidence with these 5 tips when pairing wine with food.
We just got out of quarantine! Things are finally opening up, and you are super excited to have friends over, again, for dinner parties! You just reinvented your patio with new furniture (love that ambiance, by the way), invitation texts went out last week, and your food menu is all set! …but, wait. You didn’t get the wine yet? The party is tonight. Let’s get on this!
Often, the task of picking out wines to pair with their food intimidates people. There are so many wines, and most of them are unknown. How do you know where to start? It may not be as difficult as you think if you can remember a few rules…
Not to go into too much science, but wine has five characteristics that give it personality. Body, Acidity, Tannins, Sweetness, and Alcohol. When all five of these items in a specific wine are in harmony, it balances the wine, and that wine will probably taste the best it possibly can. Keeping these five characteristics in mind, it would be helpful to use them like this when pairing with food:
Wine body is the way it feels in your mouth…think about how skim milk is much-more “heavy” in your mouth than water. A piece of steak, for instance, would warrant a heavier-bodied wine than, say, a piece of fish or chicken…simply because that steak is “heavier” in your mouth. Try to keep these balanced.
Just as a note here, acidity does not refer to effervescence (or sparkling-ness) in wine. Acidity is that tongue-tingling feeling you get when you drink wine and can also give wine a “light” feeling in your mouth and is found in most fruits. As a general rule, acidic wines tend to be lighter-bodied and, in this case, a citrusy chicken dish would play nicely with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc, for instance.
Tannins, which impart a “dryness” to the wine, are commonly found in the skins and stems of grapes. Since red wines are more-commonly left in contact with grape skins during the winemaking process, it would reason that reds tend to be more-tannic than whites. Tannins are also a natural antioxidant, and help keep wine safe from bacteria, allowing it to “live” longer. A higher tannic wine would compliment a fattier dish since the tannins help break down fat and protein on your tongue…which helps to bring out the flavors of the food.
One of the reasons why dessert wines are, in fact, dessert wines is because the sweetness of the wine compliments the sweetness of the dessert. That is not to say you cannot drink a sweet wine with dinner…remember, we drink what we like. But if you follow helpful pairing tips, it is favorable to match the sweetness in a wine with that of the food. Think a semi-sweet Pinot Grigio with a salad that has a sugared-vinaigrette dressing.
The alcohol content of a wine is usually directly related to the body of a wine, and you could follow the same suggestions for body when pairing with food. Wines range from 7% alcohol up to 18%. Anything over 13% would be higher, relatively speaking. A wine that is too high in alcohol, relating to the other four components, is called “hot.” When thinking about the “hotness” of a wine when pairing it with foods, find something that is fattier to help cut the alcohol and balance the wine more.
If you are making a dish with earthy mushroom and tangy tomato sauce, look for a wine that has similar flavor and weight profiles, like an Old World-styled Pinot Noir.
If all else fails, when you are standing in the wine store and simply cannot remember any of the tips above, remember this one:
When in doubt, a super-easy mantra to serve by suggests pairing the ethnicity of your meal with a wine from the same region. Many ethnic meals evolved to where they are today BECAUSE of the wine that is made in the region from which the dish is popular. Don’t reinvent the wheel! Use this tried and true knowledge! …and since most Asian food didn’t grow up with wine, rendering the last tip moot, just buy a bottle of semi-sweet Riesling! In my experience, 95% of the time, it will work!