At fine dining establishments, sommeliers often list suggested wines with particular entrées. While great wine and good food can certainly be appreciated on their own, making the right combinations of the two enhances the flavor profile of both. Sommeliers are experts in making these selections, but by following tried-and-true rules, any wine enthusiast can learn to make delicious pairings at home.
The Two Basic Methods
When deciding which food to enjoy with a particular wine (or vice versa), consider whether the pairing will be congruent or contrasting. Congruent pairings balance each other by emphasizing their shared compounds; red wine creates congruent pairings more often than contrasting. Sweet, white, sparkling, or rosé wines often create a contrasting pairing experience, with contrasting flavor elements (such as acidity vs. fat) complementing—but not overwhelming—each other.
Primary Flavor Components in Wine
While food contains six main flavor components, wine has three; it often lacks the salt, fat, and spice of cuisine but shares elements of bitterness, sweetness, and acidity. Understanding which of these components are more prominent in each type can help tasters create the perfect pairing. Generally speaking, red wines are characterized by bitterness; white, sparkling, and rosé wines are largely acidic; and sweet wines are, believe it or not, sweet.
Balancing Flavor Intensity
When making a pairing, consider the intensity of the food and the wine. As a general rule, the wine should be more acidic and sweeter than the food while maintaining comparable flavor intensity. For example, the bitterness of red wines balances well with rich dishes such as red meat. White wines, on the other hand, tend to be lighter, so they often pair best with lighter dishes like fish and poultry. However, there are many light-bodied reds and rich whites that can easily break the “red wine with steak, white wine with fish” rule.
When considering food with layered flavors, like pasta dishes, choose wine based on the most prominent flavor of the food. It’s generally suggested to consider the sauce before the meat when creating a wine pairing with a dish that contains both. After exploring the basic tenets of food and wine pairing, it becomes much easier to recognize flavors and play with more complex combinations.
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