Lesson 4 Objectives: This lesson strives to 1) explain wine and food pairing principles, and 2) provide a basis (if you need) to begin your wine and food pairing exploration.
Wine and food pairings
Just like adding milk into coffee will change its texture and taste; food when interacting with wine will affect its flavor (tannin, acidity, and sweetness). In fact, different ingredients and preparation methods will bring out different taste sensations with the same bottle of wine.
There are thousands of books offering rules and guidelines on food and wine pairings. For example, “red with meat; white with fish” or “full-bodied red with heavy dish; fruity white with lighter dish”. These books are great to read. But for those cannot sit through 10 pages, we offer a quick and easy version.
There is really one universal food and wine pairing rule: A good pairing is when the food and wine do not overshadow each other. Each of us has different taste preference. Some prefer complementary pairings – delicate dish with delicate wines. Others would prefer contrasting flavors – for example, a sweet wine to make a salty dish stronger. Thus the universal pairing principle: wine and food can complement or contract each other, as long as they do not mask each other’s unique flavor and characteristics.
Elements behind wine and food pairing
When pairing food, you are really complementing or contrasting four elements: weight, flavor intensity, taste, and smell. The way the dish is prepared and cooked will affect these elements:
- Body/ weight: heavy, medium, or light-body?
- Flavor intensity: weak, moderate, strong?
- Smell/ aroma: earthy, fruity, grassy/herbal?
- Taste: sweet, spicy, acidic, sour, bitter, additional spices used (e.g. lemongrass)?
For example, most people prefer Cabernet Sauvignon with red meat because they are both full-bodied, strong flavor and the protein in the meat will lighten the tannin in the wine. The wine explorers might pair it with a lighter and fruitier Merlot or a fruity but full-bodied Chardonnay.
Using spicy, strong-flavor Thai food as another example – the classic gourmets would go for full-bodied and complex Chardonnay. The wine explorers might contrast it with a sweet and light Riesling.
Wine and food pairing guide to start things off
Below you will find very general complementary food and wine pairing recommendations. Use them for reference, as a starting point. We urge you to go explore both delicate complements and outright contrasts to discover your true food and wine pairing preference!
Wine guide for typical dishes:
- Chicken – Chardonnay or lighter reds such as Rioja, Barbera, Grenache, Burgundy
- Green Salad – Herby whites such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Blanc.
- Grilled Fish – Light medium bodied whites such as Pinot Grigio, Chablis
- Pasta (red sauce) – Chianti, Zinfandel, Pinot Blanc
- Pasta (white sauce) – Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay, Viognier, Gavi
- Raw or steamed shellfish – Crisp, acidic wines such as Champagne, Sauvignon Blanc
- Steak – Full-bodied red such as Cabernet, Bordeaux
Wine guide for Asian cuisines:
- Chinese – Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir
- Indian – Zinfandel, Chardonnay
- Japanese – Beaujolais, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling
- Thai – Chablis, Chardonnay
Wine guide for cheese:
- Creamy soft brie or camembert – Red Burgundy, Chardonnay, Chablis
- Strong goat cheese –Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume
- Hard Gouda – Chianti, Dolcetto, Pinot Noir
- Semi hard cheese – Semillon, Rioja, Sauvignon Blanc
- Smoked cheese – Gewurztraminer, Sauternes, Shiraz
- Strong blue cheese – Sauternes, Port, Hermitage, Madeira
Last but not least, some food and wine pairing tips:
- There are ingredients / food that would mask the flavor of most wines; for example, artichokes, olives, vinegar, yogurt, asparagus, and chocolate. These food/ingredients are your best friends when your wine sucks.
- Cigarettes and cigars are wines’ worst enemies as they mask the taste and aromas of the wines.
- Cheese contrary to popular belief, is not the best wine partner. Heavy and strong cheese will not only mask the taste, but also the texture and smell of most wines.
- Acidic wines are generally good flexible wines, ie they go well with many dishes. Sauvignon Blanc, dry Riesling, Chianti are great examples. In addition, acidic wines make salty dishes appear less salty.
- For hard to pair fatty food such as foie gras, try Sauternes (an equally rich and intense wine).
- For spicy food, try fruity, low-alcohol wines such as Riesling and Gewurztraminer.
- Sweet food goes well with a bottle that is slightly sweeter.
- To better enjoy complex food, pair with simple wine. Likewise, to enjoy complex wine, go with simple food.