Food and Wine Pairing: Forget the Classics, Listen To Your Taste Buds!

food and wine pairingEggs and bacon, macaroni and cheese, cookies and milk, and peanut butter and jelly : these are some tried and true classic food pairings.  Yes, these are great food pairings, but what about food and wine pairings?  If your answer is, “Well, just about anything goes good with a glass of wine after a long day!”, we are going to agree with you on that one.  However, we are going to raise our glasses to the idea that there are a plethora of excellent pairings of wine and food that are more worth mentioning than not.  Join us as we go over some excellent food and wine pairings.  You will wish you had known about some of these!

For your convenience, we have chosen to focus on 3 categories of pairing: wine and cheese, wine and chocolate, and wine and Asian food (because we can all use a good tub of Asian takeout once in awhile!)  But before we get started, let’s do a general tutorial on how to pair wine with food.

Knowing Your Food and Wine

Who knew there was an actual science and method to finding the correct pairings of food and wine for your taste buds?  If you thought your days of high school science were over, let’s take a few steps back and open our textbooks to help determine what makes a great food and wine pairing.

Consider these components when you are pairing food and wine:

  • Consider the wine’s level of fruitiness, acidity, alcohol content, and tannin.
  • Consider the food’s ingredients, preparation, and the end taste.
  • For both wine and food, consider the texture, weight, structure, and bouquet.
  • For example: pair a delicate tasting food with a delicate tasting wine, and a heavy and rich food with a full-flavored wine.

Consider how your food is cooked or prepared:

  • Was your food fried, roasted, poached, steamed, marinated, or seasoned?
  • Take into account the flavor, texture, weight, and composition of the food as well once it is ready to be eaten.

If you like to pair opposites, consider doing that too!

  • Pair your food and wine so that they complement each other. This means that when you taste one, then it will be balanced out to an equilibrium when you consume or sip the other.

Stay simple with food flavors

  • Too much flavor in your food can overpower the wine.
  • If you have very rich, full-flavored food or a complex dish, go lighter on your choice of wine and do not choose an expensive or heavy option.  Your food could be too dominant in a way that you will not taste the full effect of the wine’s flavor.

The Pairing Method

Be able to taste food and wine together properly.  Lucky for you, there is an actual step by step process that you can follow to help you really grasp the flavors of your food and wine.  Go ahead and follow this method:

  1. Get around a mouthful of wine and roll it gently around the inside of your mouth so that it hits all edges.
  2. Swallow wine.
  3. Once you swallow, close your eyes and think about what you taste and what smells you can taste from the wine’s flavoring.
  4. Is the wine light or heavy?
  5. Determine the wine’s sweetness and acidity content.
  6. Now, take what you know about your wine and find a food with similar characteristics.  If you can, find at least one aspect of the food that will correspond with the wine.  For instance: its sweetness, texture, or flavor.
  7. Eat a small piece of the food you have chosen.  Chew well and swallow.  Hopefully the match is made!  If not, keep trying different options.

The Experience

While you are working to pair your wine and food, keep in mind the five different tastes that you are looking out for.  Once you are able to identify the taste, then you can pair it with one that you feel will compliment it ideally.  Let’s take a look at those five different tastes.  Try not to get too hungry!

  1. Salty:  It is rather easy to recognize a salty taste because it will stick around in your mouth for awhile.  Salty things are here to bring out, yes, you guessed it: sweetness!  They also work to hide tannins and bitter tastes.  Of course, sweet, fruity, or red wines will pair well with salty foods.
  2. Acidy:  If you have a food high in acidity taste, you might want to consider whether or not you even want to pop open a bottle.  This is because foods with high acidity tend to override the actual flavor of the wine.  However, if you have a wine that is acidic, you should have a food that is low in acidity so that it will not flatten the wine.  Additionally, if you know that you food calls for vinegar, vinaigrette, or acidic dressings, consider leaving those out.
  3. Bitter:  If you have a bitter food to work with, know that it is probably going to outlast the taste of your wine.  It will also work to hide a wine’s acidity and bring out its sweetness.  A red wine will work well with bitter foods, such as radicchios, olives, bitter greens, or certain herbs.
  4. Sweetness:  Ah, the taste of sweet!  Here is another easy one to recognize.  You will want to pair a sweet wine with a food that is not too sweet, because that will just cancel out the sweetness.   Similarly, if you have a sweet food such as chocolate, aim for a something else, such as a liqueur or a Muscat.
  5. Unami:  The taste is from earthy or broth type foods.  For instance: soups, mushrooms, roast, or stock.  If you have a food with this type of taste, aim to pair it with a wine that is high in tannin, as it will bring out the wine’s sweetness.

Suggestions for Classic Pairings

foodandwinepairingAs you are shopping for wine, you will probably notice a lot of classic suggestions.  While you may take these into consideration, keep in mind that everyone’s palate is different.  We are all different ages, have different taste, and others have more defined taste buds than some.  Here are some classic food and wine pairings that you might come across:

  • Chicken:  Most people pair chicken with white wine.  If you are having a grilled or roasted chicken, consider drinking Chardonnay.  If your chicken has been cooked in a thick and rich sauce, go for Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon.
  • Beef or Lamb:  The classic pairing for beef or lamb is red wine, usually of the Shiraz or Cabernet blend.  Some more suggestions include: Barbera, Sangiovese, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
  • Fish or Seafood:  If you are going for a fancy dinner, choose a white wine with your fish or seafood dish.  If you have a grilled and thick slab of fish, choose a Chardonnay or aged Semillon.  On the other hand, a stewed fish goes better with a Pinot Noir.  If you are a fish and chips fanatic, go for a Riesling or a Chardonnay.  Some other suggestions here are: Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer.
  • Spicy:  If you like to make your taste buds tingle with spicy dishes, pair your hotness with some Riesling or sweet Gewürztraminer.  However, stay away from Chardonnay, because it will leave your food tasting bitter.
  • Vension (other Game):  If you have a gamey tasting food, choose a spicy red wine such as Sangiovese or Shiraz to offset the game flavor.
  • Acidic Meal:  If your meal has a tomato like base, go with a Barbera, Sangiovese, or Zinfandel.  This goes well with spaghetti or pizza, too!
  • Duck and Quail: Pinot Noir or a Shiraz.
  • Cheese:  Pairing wine with cheese is a whole other story!  In the meantime, know that full-bodied wines go well with hard cheese flavors.  Softer cheese will work with dry Riesling or Viogner.  If you have blue cheese, or a blue cheese-laced dish, consider going with a sweet wine.
  • Dessert:  Remember that sweet wines do not mix well with sweet food.  However, as long as the dessert is not as sweet as the wine – go for it!

Gain Even More Knowledge!

Once you have the basics flavors and tastes down when pairing wine and food, you can factor in other contributing factors when making your choices.  Also, realize that your pairing can be even more complicated by the way that your dishes are cooked.  As we mentioned before, consider all the different facets of your food preparation when you choose a wine.  You might say that chicken goes well with white wine.  However, then you are left with the decision of determining which white wine is the best pairing.  Then, you can consider if the chicken was: roasted, cooked in cream, barbequed, or cooked with its fat, among other things.  Therefore, it is important to do the following if you want to broaden your pairing knowledge:

  • Know the different flavors of your wine:  Once you know your wine’s style, you can pair these with the food ingredients (yes, we are diving that deep!)  For instance, fruity and woody tastes can have an impact on the flavor of the wine, and are both important to take note of during the pairing processes.  If there are tropical flavors, smokiness, herb scents, or coconut aftermath in your wine, then you will want to find foods that possess those same tastes.
  • Wine weight:  Yes, we are going to talk about weight here too.  Not actually weight, but whether or not your wines are light, medium, or full will determine.
  • Smell:  Employ your senses to help you determine pairings.

Let’s get swishing!

With all these wine pairing details and instructions to follow, it is easy to feel overwhelmed.  The main thing to remember about tasting wine, and ultimately pairing it with a food or meal, is to have fun!  Invite your friends over, make it a date, or enjoy exploring its mechanics on your own.  Just remember: drink responsibly!  Soon enough, you will be swishing your way to perfection!

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