guide to wine pairing

6 Tips On Pairing Exciting Wines With Your Favorite Foods

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There is something about wine. Although it’s often given a different connotation than liquor, beer, or mixed drinks, wine comes in many different varieties, as well as many different quality levels. Wines and Vines reports that there are about 10,742 different wineries across the United States as of 2020, and those wineries all create unique wines that will range in flavors and experiences regardless of their price. A wine doesn’t necessarily have to be extremely expensive in order to provide a great taste and feeling; nor does it have to be of the most well-known label in the world. Much of what determines the flavor and experience of a wine is the food that you pair with the wine.

There’s a reason why nobody recommends wine on an empty stomach. While wine can be nice to sip on its own, virtually all wine is made to be paired with food, and most wines are made with specific food pairings in mind. Food can bring out an extra body and breadth to wines. For that matter, eating some food with wine can make you less likely to see the side effects of over-indulging the next morning! Wine is really all about balance, and the only way to really achieve that balance is to take some time to study a brief guide to wine pairings, like the one we’re leaving below. Keep in mind that while pairing food and wine is an art, it might not be one that you get right the first time. If you’re just getting into wine, try out a few different variations before you get creative with pairings. Without further ado, let’s look into a few suggestions we have about how to pair food with wine.

1. It’s Not Straightforward

You may have already found some of the more common recommendations made within a guide to wine pairing made for less adventurous wine tasters. Fish should go with white wine and beef with red wine — that is the conventional wisdom. But that’s not the only thing to remember when pairing wine with food, and these rules are not always straightforward. For example, different fish pair better with different white wines than others. If you’re eating halibut, it may pair better with a light-bodied white wine, like pinot grigio. However, something oilier and therefore heavier like salmon may taste better when paired with a light-bodied Burgundy as opposed to that pinot grigio.

Then there are fish that are not recommended with white wine at all, like seared tuna. This fish is very much like a steak when given a good sear, and accordingly, it’s often matched alongside red wines, in particular merlots. Winemakers also like to experiment with different blends, creating wines that may extend beyond the typical pairing choices that you would make for them. The wine industry is traditional in some areas, and more experimental in others. So, if you tried one of the basic pairing tips and found that it didn’t quite tickle your fancy, you may need to look more closely at not only the wine but the complexities of the food with which you’re pairing it.

2. Consider Region

If you’ve read over a guide to wine pairing in the past, you probably noticed an emphasis on the wine’s region of origin. Region is incredibly important when it comes to wine. After all, some, like Burgundies, are named after their regions. Master sommeliers can often define where a wine was created, and even where the grapes from which the wine originated were grown based on its flavor. Different regions also prefer to make wines for different reasons, and therefore will keep different food pairings in mind. After all, creating wine is an ancient art, and in the past wine was not paired with seafood or red meat, but rather paired with whatever foods came from the region in which the wine was produced.

For example, Tuscany is very well known for its Chianti, a red wine known for its strong flavor that is rich with tannins. Therefore, it’s not a surprise that the Bistecca alla Fiorentina (which translated into Florentine Steak) pairs well with Chianti. Though Bistecca is typically made from beef sourced within Italy, it stands to reason that a Chianti would pair well with a good cut of beef. You don’t need a guide to wine pairing to make these kinds of logical pairings, but you do need to research the area from which your wine was sourced. A French wine will pair better with a French cheese than a Spanish wine would, for example. Remember too that you don’t need to spend a lot of money to buy wines or foods from these more exotic locales; you can pick up a lot of imported foods at a grocery store, and specialized wineries are closer than you would think. It’s fairly easy to make a shopping list that pairs wines to foods from the same region.

3. Be Conscious When Dealing With Tannins

What are tannins, you ask? They can complicate your wine pairing adventures a bit more than the flavors that you’ll typically find in white wines. Wines that are richer in tannins usually aren’t white and are more likely to leave your teeth a bit stained after you drink them. You’ll recognize tannins because they give the wine more a kick, having you pucker your lips in reaction and giving you a drying sensation. However, it’s that reflex and sensation that make tannins clear; not an actual taste or smell. That can make them a bit trickier as you look through a guide to wine pairing. Furthermore, wines that are rich in tannins won’t always be for the faint of heart. If you’re more used to sweeter wines, like Moscato, you might want to avoid a tannin-rich wine for your first pairing experiment.

This is because tannins tend to bring out the flavors in whatever foods they’re paired with. Therefore, if a food is sweet or spicy, those flavors will likely become more pronounced when a tannin-heavy wine is thrown into the mix, making the food less palatable. Wines that are heavy with tannins furthermore are somewhat difficult to pair with fish, as the astringency of the tannins creates a metallic flavor within the fish. Any blander meal isn’t a great pairing either, as the wine will often overwhelm the flavor of the food. So, you may be asking: what can I pair with tannin heavy wines? The answer is simply protein-heavy wines. Think of how well the power of the tannins will mingle with the richness of a great cut of red meat, like steak or lamb, or even wild game. A good Bordeaux is the perfect kind of wine to pair with meats that are rich in protein, though you can certainly gain a similar effect through Burgundies.

4. Salt Can Do Wine Some Good

Those of us who are new to wine tasting and haven’t spent much time poring over a guide to wine pairing may be intimidated by more acrid wines. For some, wine isn’t necessarily an instant favorite, and that’s nothing to be ashamed of. You aren’t less sophisticated just because you haven’t quite found a fondness for drier wines just yet. Wines don’t have to be heavy with tannins in order to be acrid or bitter. It can be an issue found in every kind of wine, and it doesn’t have to be a bad thing or render the wine unusable. Some wines are meant to be more bitter, due to the foods with which they’re meant to be paired.

Some chefs have actually recommended adding a pinch of salt to particularly acrid wines in order to make them easier to drink. This way, the salt will numb your tastebuds to the initial bitter flavor until you get used to it and grow past it, learning to enjoy the full flavor profile of the wine. In the same sense, if you’re easing your way into more bitter or challenging wines, you may want to pair them with saltier foods. Essentially, the salt and the bitterness neutralize each other, creating a more pleasant experience for the wine drinker. Good wine may have an initially bitter taste, but it will have more to the flavor than just the bitterness alone. Bitterness, again, isn’t a bad thing; it just needs to be presented in the right way, which would be a manner that would best bring out the full flavors of the wine. This is something to keep in mind if wine is being served at private parties, where you might not be sure if everyone is familiar with the flavor profiles of more adventurous wines.

5. Wine Can Go With Desserts

A good guide for pairing wines would be remiss without mentioning wines that pair well with desserts. We associate wines more with dinners and savory foods, but not all wines are made with this in mind. In fact, some wines are specifically made to be paired with desserts, and you may have already tried some. Many wine drinkers are initially introduced to wine through sweeter, fruiter wines or even the more pastry-like dessert wines. Wines that have less sugar are almost always more acidic, as sugar offsets acidity. It stands to reason that those that prefer less acidity are drawn, then, to wines with more sugar. At the same time, this means that you shouldn’t pair an acidic wine with dessert. Desserts are meant to be sweet, and if you pair them with an acidic wine they’ll lose that quality.

When looking into desserts, a guide to wine pairing becomes a little more complex. You’ll want to choose a wine that is sweeter than the dessert, but not too sweet. The last thing you want is a wine that tastes less like wine and more like fruit juice! It’s often recommended that those looking for dessert wines seek out New World wines, as Old World wines often have more tannins and are therefore more likely to downplay the sweetness of a wine rather than enhancing it. Think about New World wines, like a Californian zinfandel, when considering wines to pair with desserts. You don’t have to reach for the Moscato; a zinfandel will enhance the flavors of chocolate in particular, as well as other desserts. When a dessert is somewhat less overwhelmingly sugary, like a pastry with tart strawberries, you could consider a Brut, as this would offer sweetness without being overpowering. As always with wine pairings, the key is really creating a balance.

6. Match A Spice’s Power

Spicy food, at face value, may seem to be the most difficult type of food of all to pair with food. But as a guide to wine pairings will tell you, the issues with spicy food don’t lie in a difficulty with pairing, exactly, but rather a difficulty in finding food that can match the wine in intensity. Just as wine should not overwhelm the food, the food should not overwhelm the wine.

A general rule of thumb is that the spicier the food, the more it reduces the sweetness of the wine. Therefore, spicy food should not be paired with an overly dry wine, as it will taste sour. This is because alcohol will bring the oils in spicy food forward, and enhance the heating sensation it creates on the palate. Beaujolais is an interesting wine to pair with hotter foods. This is because it follows the instructions typically given in a guide to wine pairing with spicy foods: choose a wine that is fruitier and lower in alcohol. This will ensure that the food doesn’t become unnecessarily hotter, and the wine will not become sour.

Even after you study a guide to wine pairing, don’t let yourself become overly rigid. Experiment with pairing different wines with different foods, and choose what your palate enjoys most. Ultimately, wine is meant to be fun, and to give you the opportunity to experiment. Don’t feel like you need to stick to rigid standards.

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