Food, Wine, and True Love

Wine and CharcuterieWhat do you think makes a great pairing of food and wine? 

Some people like to base a food and wine pairing on aromas, textures, or intensity.  Some like to match or contrast flavors.  Others ponder occasion, quality, and variety.  Many people prefer to keep it simple and think the best thing is to just “serve what you like!”

As with beauty, whether or not a pairing is “good” or “bad” is in the eye of the beholder. But the truth remains, food and wine transform each other, and in many cases, this transformation is predictable.  When food meets wine, you can be certain that one of the following things will happen:

The food will exaggerate a characteristic of the wine.  For instance, salty foods can turbocharge the acidity of a white wine, and matching a big red wine with a mild cheese will emphasize its fruit flavors.  Both of these matches would most likely be pleasant combinations to most people.  However, sometimes this reaction will throw a wine out of balance.

The food will diminish a characteristic of the wine.  This is especially obvious with the basic taste components of acid and sweet, which tend to cancel each other out.  Serving a wine with an acidic food, such as lemon, vinegar, or tomatoes, will make the wine taste much less acidic.  This is considered a “good” match by most, if your wine has the acidity to stand up to the food.  However, if the wine was low acid to begin with, it may taste flabby and dull.  Sweetness has the same diminishing effect – sweet foods and sweet wines make each other taste less sweet. (Try saying that five times fast.)

Cabernet and ChocolateThe flavor intensity of the food will obliterate the wine’s flavor, or vice versa.  In my classes I call this “Godzilla versus Bambi.” Think about pouring chocolate sauce on a salad.  Or serving Albariño with blackened ribeye.  Imho, this combination would render the wine flavorless; this might be a good time to “serve what you like” or crack open a beer.   

The wine will contribute new flavors to the food.  If your Trout Amandine tastes a little bland, you can give it a squeeze of lemon.  Or, you can serve it with a crisp Sauvignon Blanc and add a squeeze of acidity along with the flavors of lime and dill.  If your steak is boring, you can reach for the A-1, or, better yet, pour a glass of Red Zinfandel and add the flavors of black pepper and red berries to your meal.

The wine and food will remain neutral.  In this scenario,nothing turns more acidic, or more harsh, or less sweet.  Everybody just goes their separate ways.  It’s ike going to the movies with your parents.  Better than nothing, but kind of dull.  You would have had more fun with your pals, but at least your stalker ex didn’t show up.  

The wine will provide a refreshing “jolt” to your palate and make the flavors of the food more clear, forward, or noticeable.  One of the great pleasures of wine is its acidity and its tannin, both of which make for excellent palate cleansers, allowing you to experience your food more fully.  The acidity of many wines also stimulates saliva flow (gross, I know…), which ups your ability to taste foods and experience their flavors.

The wine and food together can create an unwelcome third flavor.  I call this the “third wheel”.   I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but bad pairings do happen. Which can be helpful, in the case of unwanted guests. Break out the salty snacks… serve up a big, earthy, tannic Syrah…soon everyone’s mouth will be filled with the lovely flavors of tin can, dentist’s drill, detergent, and copper penny.  One by one, your unwelcome guests come up with clever excuses to leave.  Which is good if you hate them.  It’s really bad if you were hoping (ahem) they would stick around a while.  

Chenin Blanc BottomThe wine and food combine to create a totally welcome new flavor. This is the magic moment of  synergy! A match like this is often so individual to the flavors and textures of each dish and each wine that it can’t be predicted.  But when it does..its great! For instance, Ruby Port  and Roquefort Cheese combine to create butterscotch and vanilla flavors, or the combined forces of Prosciutto ham and dry Riesling create a dried fruit, clove, and cinnamon symphony (cue the violins).   

Confusing?  Yes indeed.  Anyway, it’s magic and can’t be reduced to a formula. It’s like true love.  You can’t explain it, but you know it when you find it.  

Then again, you can always just serve what you like.

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The Bubbly Professor is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas


Pairing Food with…Beer?

Beer and FriesAs you may know, here on The Bubbly Professor, one of my favorite subjects is the sublime pairing of food and wine. For those people who say, “Just drink what you like!’ – or – “Don’t overthink it!” All I can say is, I stand accused! I’m an overthinking, techno-babbling, paralysis by analysis food and wine geek.  Girl can’t help it.

I also can’t help the fact that – despite my obvious interest in, and bias towards wine, there exist on this earth people who prefer beer to wine.  As of late, some have even snuck their way into my social circle.  So, in the interest of being an all-inclusive, the-more-the-merrier, gather-round-the-table kind of friend, I’ve figured out a few things that make beer taste even better with food.

In general, the same rules apply for pairing beer and food as apply to wine and food.  Keep the basic principles concerning taste, flavor, and texture front-and-center in your mind. 

  • Many beers are downright sweet, and pair nicely with desserts.  Other good choices for the sweet course include higher-alcohol beers and very dark beers.
  • Most beer is very acidic, which can be a good match for acidic foods and salty foods.
  • While the adage that “bitterness in food increases bitterness in your beverage,” holds true for beer, there is hope for “high-hop” beers. I like to say it like this, “If you have bubbles, you’ll have no troubles.”  If a beverage has bubbles (and this holds true for sparkling wine as well), you don’t have to worry as much about all the “rules.”  It seems that bubbles just wash bitterness (true in food, truer in life.)
  • Beer and shrimpHops can help beer to “cut through” rich foods, making a hoppy beer a good match for rich, meaty foods, much like tannic wine and rich food.
  • As with wine, keep in mind the texture, or weight of your beer.  Beer can be classified as light-medium-full bodied in much the same way as wine.  Lighter-bodied styles of beer include German Beers, Wheat Beers, Steam Beers, Light Beers, and Pale Lagers.  Medium-bodied beers include Amber Ales, Pale Ales, Vienna Lager, Cream Ales, and some dark Ales. Full-bodied beers include Bocks, Imperial Stouts, Strong Ales, Barleywine, and Trappist Ale.
  • Beer’s amazing diversity and complexity of flavors allow it to pair well with a wide range of dishes, including the fiery-hot and super-spicy…these foods are sometimes tough on wine.

Don’t let anyone turn their nose up are your beer and food pairings.  If you must, remind them of some of these reasons why beer is great with food:

  • There are far more styles of beer available than wine. No matter what the food, chances are you can find a beer that goes great with it.
  • Beer has bubbles, and if you have bubbles, you’ll have no troubles.
  • On average, beer has half the alcohol content of wine, so you don’t have to worry about the alcohol clashing with food.
  • Beer, due to its always-cold, always bubbly, low-alcohol, and sometime spicy characteristics, will always be a good choice for hot, spicy ethnic foods, such as Indian, Asian, and Mexican dishes.
  • Nothing says “tail-gate” or “beach party” better than beer.
  • Beer tends to be more of a socio-economic leveler.  Translation:  it’s cheaper than wine.

The Bubbly Professor, still a wine lover, is “Miss Jane” Nickles of Austin, Texas…