Many customs have accompanied wine drinking through the years. None of them are meant to be intimidating or stuffy. They are just practices intended to enhance the enjoyment of wine.
- “White wine with fish and red wine with meat” is more customary than culinary.
- Red wines are served at room temperature, while white wines, roses, and champagnes are served chilled.
- The stronger the food, the stronger the wine. The lighter the food, the lighter the wine.
- Wine loves air, which revives its sleeping flavors. It is recommended to open the bottle about an hour before consumption and let the wine “breathe”. This ages it a year or so, and allows its flavors to mellow.
- A bottle of wine has to be handled carefully, with the minimum movement possible. Remember, wine likes to sleep, only to awaken in your mouth.
- Red wine bottles do not need to be cleaned or dusted before opening. They are opened on a hard surface. White wines, rose, and Champagne bottles are opened in ice buckets.
- Red wines corks are sniffed to make sure the wine has not spoiled, which gives the cork an unpleasant smell. It is not necessary to smell white and rose wine corks since the wine was refrigerated and the cork will not smell.
Food & Wine Matching
Does it matter what wine is served with a particular food or dish?
First of all it is important to take into account personal taste. If a particular combination pleases you then it is the right choice for you.
The principal reason for food and wine matching is to enhance the overall experience of a dish or meal by pairing it with a wine that will complement it. Think about strawberries and cream, how when combined they are more delicious than when eaten separately, even though they are tasty foods individually.
What should I think about when matching wine with food?
Remember it is a matter of personal taste, so choose combinations you find particularly pleasing.
Many wine styles evolved to complement the cuisine of the region, and so this is a good starting point for finding a food and wine combination.
Have fun, be brave and experiment. Many excellent combinations have been discovered this way.
Where can I find some food and wine matching suggestions?
For food and wine matching ideas, inspirations and suggestions go to our Food and Wine Matching pages.
Is there such a thing as a safe bet food and wine pairing?
Some food and wine combinations work so well that they are truly marriages made in heaven. For example:
- Sauvignon Blanc with asparagus
- Champagne with oysters
- Pinot Grigio with parma ham and melon
- Red Bordeaux with roast Lamb
- Beaujolais with roast pork
- German Riesling Kabinett with sushi
Are there foods that are impossible to match with wine?
Listed below are foods which are very difficult or impossible to match well with wine. In these instances all you can do is find the best possible match, or better still limit the amount of that particular food. For example, horseradish spoils the flavour of wine so take a small serving rather than great dollops of horseradish sauce with your Roast Beef.
Guide to Food and Wine Matching
To achieve the best match it is necessary to analyse the basic components in both the wine and the food. The principal is to try to balance them so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.
The main elements to consider are:
- Flavour Intensity and Characteristic
Weight – try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. Rich, heavyweight foods, like red meat casseroles need full-bodied wines. Normally it is powerful Red wines that are the favoured 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 a light-styled Red wine.
Lightweight food like poultry and fish are complemented by more delicate wines. Whilst a White wine is the instinctive choice light, low-tannin Reds also work.
Flavour Intensity and Character – flavour intensity, although similar to weight, is 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.
Quite often it is not the dish’s main ingredient that is the dominant flavour. In a creamy chicken curry the sauce will be heavier and fuller flavoured than the chicken. In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.
The flavour characteristics of some foods and wines are very similar and consequently they make good combinations:
- Fruit-based desserts can be matched with the “grapey” flavour of the Muscat variety.
- Spicy dishes can be matched with Gewurtraminer, a variety often described as spicy. (Spicy wines may have white or black pepper, cloves, ginger, allspice aromas and flavours for example.)
- Cream or butter sauces go well with wines that have been fermented in new oak barrels. Oak imparts vanilla-scented, buttery, creamy flavours to the wine.
- Delicately flavoured wines like Italian Whites and Muscadet complement shellfish and seafood.
Acidity – 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. Wines from cool climates will have more acidity than those from hot climates.
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.
High-acid wines are also used to cleanse the palate when eating oily food. Even without the lemon, smoked salmon is made more palatable when the Champagne cuts through the natural oiliness of the fish.
In Italy where many dishes are made with lots of olive oil you will find the majority of their Red wines have noticeable acidity and so complement the regional dishes perfectly. The wines’ acidity matches the acid characteristic also found in the tomatoes whilst cutting through the olive oil.
Salt – salt is not a flavour you will find in wine. Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness, Parma Ham and Melon is a classic example. The same thing can be achieved with wine; Sauternes, a very sweet dessert wine from the Bordeaux region, is a famous match with salty, Roquefort cheese.
It is unusual to want a sweet wine with a main course and because salt clashes with tannin (it makes tannin seem more bitter) in this instance it would be better to select a low-tannin wine.
Salt works with acidity, an example of this would be salty nibbles served with Champagne before a meal.
For a dry wine to work with salty food it should have low tannins and 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 – tannins cause your gums to pucker and dry when you drink wine. They are usually detected in Red wines because tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks and they are not used in White wine-making. Wines made from different grape varieties vary enormously in tannin content, some varieties being naturally low in tannins and others high. Cabernet Sauvignon has very thick skins and so makes very deeply coloured, high-tannin 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. 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 – sweet foods make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart. The general rule of thumb is to serve a wine at least as sweet or sweeter than the food being served.
Many sweet wines have a good level of acidity, Sauternes and Côteaux du Layons are good examples. This makes them a very good match for rich foods like pâté. The acidity will cut through the fat in the pâté and the wine’s sweetness will complement the richness of this food.
As mentioned previously, sweetness also balances salt and so sweet wines are classic companions of blue cheeses e.g. Port with Stilton.
What are some of your favorite wine and food combinations? List them in the comments.