The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Three

In the last two posts, we’ve learned that food and wine should be paired up with an eye to their tastes, flavors, and textures.  We’ve also discussed the three concepts most important to making that world-class match.  Today…we reveal the “real rules” -those flavor dynamics that occur when wine meets food – and how to make them work for us!

The Real Rules…Here they are!  

  1. Any level of acidity in food…whether it is a squeeze of lemon or a topping of tomatoes, will diminish your ability to taste acidity in wine.  Simply stated, acid in food makes acid in wine less apparent.  If you are starting with a tart, high-acid wine, acidic foods will make your wine taste smoother.  The flip-side of this rule is that acidic foods can wash out low-acid wines and make them taste flabby – beware!  Acidic foods require high-acid wines.
  2. Sweet food will make the sweetness of a wine less apparent and bring out the other characters of a wine, be it acid, tannin, or bitterness.  If a wine does not contain any discernible sweetness, sweet food will reduce the fruity flavors and bring out acidic, tannic, and earthy tastes and flavors.  One of the biggest mistakes people make is pairing a savory food with a sweet sauce…like roast pork with apples…with dry, tannic wines.  Such dishes require a slightly sweet wine – or a very, very fruity wine for a good match.
  3. Fatty foods will smooth out acidity, and sometimes the tannin in any style of wine.
  4. Salty food goes well with acidic wines – they “turbocharge” each other.
  5. Salty food goes well with slightly sweet wines – it’s the trail mix effect.
  6. Salty foods are a conundrum with bitter or tannic wines. In the case of mildly salty foods (prepared with good-quality salt), a bit of salt can help diminish the perception of bitterness and perhaps the tannin in a wine. However, iodized salt can emphasize bitter or tannic flavors in certain wines, as can too much salt—so be careful with ultra-salty foods and please tell the chef to ditch the can of cheap iodized salt!
  7. Bitter tastes in foods enhance bitter tastes in wines – beware!!
  8. Matching a flavor in the food with a similar flavor in the wine (such as “herbal”) is called a “flavor bridge” and will most likely be a great match.  Flavor matching is almost always successful and can be a very fun, creative way to pair up food and wine…but be sure the taste components are dealt with before you attempt any flavor match-ups!
  9. Flavor contrasts, will work very well when the flavors mesh together.  Experiment and have fun!  Fruit with Fish?  Herbs with Lamb?  If it works, we call this blend of flavors a “natural affinity” (meaning quite simply “they go well together!).  Happy note:  almost all flavors in food and wine go well together…it’s rare to find a real “clash”.
  10. Texture matches, such as light-bodied wines with light-bodied foods, and rich wines with rich food, are always a reliable match.  Also keep in mind that in the case of rich food (roast beef with cheddar mashed potatoes or apricot-white chocolate cheesecake), sometimes having a lighter wine as the pairing partner will provide a bit of welcome palate relief and refreshment. The rich food/lighter wine pair-up also allows the food the be the “star of the show” which is sometimes what you are looking for! Many somms consider the textural component to be the most important aspect in the wine-and-food equation, but don’t forget that it is the taste components in the food that really have the ability to change the way a wine is perceived.
  11. It’s all relative…these rules can help forecast the interactions between food and wine in simple (taste, flavor, texture) terms. However…whether or not a match is considered to be “good” is subjective, and dependent upon the personal tastes and preferences of the beholder. Folks vary quite a bit in their ability to perceive and appreciate the various forms of food and drink. So the bottom line is…if you like it, drink it!

Cheers and Bon Appetit!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part Two

In yesterday’s post we learned that food and wine pair up, for better or worse, based on their tastes, flavors, and textures.  Today, in installment number two, we Get to Know “The Three Concepts”  vital to a perfect pairing.

Step two on the path to becoming a food a wine genius:  Master the Three Key Concepts…repeat them like a mantra!

Key Concept #1:  You don’t pair to flavor, you pair to taste.

Lots and lots of well-meaning people think they know food and wine pairing because they heard – somewhere in wine and food cliché-land – that you can match or contrast flavors in food and wine.  That’s true, you can…but the result is virtually meaningless (and can be a disaster) if you haven’t first dealt with the major taste components in both the food and the wine.

It’s worth repeating…the most important component in any food and wine match-up is the taste components…sweet, acid, salt, bitter, oil, and tannin.  The presence of any of these in your food will change the way you perceive your wine…for better, or worse!

Key Concept #2:  You don’t pair to protein, you pair to preparation.   

If someone tells you they are serving up turkey, fish, or poultry for dinner, your food-and-wine pairing job has just begun.  About the only usable information we can get from this tidbit is a hint as to the overall texture of the dish.  Otherwise, we have nothing.  Let’s face it, protein is bland.  Fish, chicken, and pork have almost no taste components in them (save for varying levels of fat and a bit of umami – more on that later) before they are prepared.

What do you really need to know before making a match?   Hopefully, if you’ve read this far, you know…you want to know what tastes are involved.  It all depends on preparation…is it broiled, fried, steamed, and even more importantly…how is it seasoned, served, or sauced?  That’s what you need to know!

Key Concept #3:  You pair to the “The Key Elements” in a dish. 

To be really, really good at pairing food and wine, you must develop an instinct for discerning the key elements in a food or wine….the tastes, the flavors, and the textures.  Most meals are a cacophony of tastes, flavors, and textures, and most wines contain at least two taste components and might carry dozens of flavors.  It would take hours to figure out a perfect pairing based on all the information available, even for the simplest meal!  So, we have to learn to cut through the clutter and figure out the one or two elements of a wine or a dish that will most impact the pairing.

A very good rule of thumb is that is the major taste components (acid, sweet, salt, bitter, oil, or tannin) are present in a discernible level in either the food or the wine, those taste components will be among the key elements.  After you have figured out the tastes, try to discern the key flavors.  Other components that might be one of your key elements include spiciness, heat as from chili peppers, or an extreme of texture such as the lightness of a lemon soufflé or the heaviness of roast prime rib accompanied by cheddar cheese mashed potatoes.

One word of caution in this step is not to rely too heavily on generalities.  Wine and food are all about creativity and subtlety so take each wine and dish on its own merits. In addition, people vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy all aspects of food and wine, including even the most carefully considered pairings. In other words, if you enjoy it – drink it!

Once you develop a knack for breaking a food or wine down into its key elements, and you can learn to apply a few simple rules (see tomorrow’s post) and have a great chance at a great pairing!

MAJOR CAVEAT: People vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy tastes, flavors, and textures as well as a range of food and wine (by themselves and in any combination). If it works for you…go for it!

The Real Rules of Food and Wine Pairing, Part One…

 

Forget everything you think you know about food and wine pairing!

  • White Wine with Fish…
  • Strawberries and Champagne…
  • Red Wine and Chocolate…

Whatever you’ve heard, forget it!

I’m sorry to be the one to tell you this, but food and wine pairing have nothing to do with wine color, pairing to proteins, or “matching or contrasting” flavors.

The truth of the matter is this: food and wine pair up, and pair up successfully or disastrously, based on three components:  tastes, flavors, and textures.  Learn the principles behind these truths and you will become an instant food and wine genius!  Who can resist that?

To Get Started…Defining “The Three Components”

Tastes include sweet, salt, acid (sour), bitter, and umami (certain types of protein). Due to their importance in food-and-wine meet-ups, fat/oil, and tannin are often included in this component category..

A taste component, as you should have learned in elementary school, is something that can be perceived using just your tongue, or your taste bud?  Time to dust off that memory!  I also include tannin and fat/oil in this category, as many scientists believe they are actually tastes, and they have such a profound impact on a food and wine pairing.

The truth is this:  if a wine, or a dish, is sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, or contains a lot of mouth-coating oil or tongue-drying tannin, that fact is likely to have a big impact on its behavior in a food-and-wine match.

Taste Components are almost always the most important factor to consider in a food and wine pairing.  Specific tastes in food will change the way you perceive specific tastes in wine.  These changes are predictable and consistent, and are outlined in my “few simple rules” chart – to be posted in the near future.

 Flavors….fruity, floral, herbal, earthy, nutty, oaky, meaty…the list goes on!

 Flavors are sensed as a combination of taste, aroma, and texture.  Please don’t confuse flavor with taste!  Cherry is a flavor, sweet is a taste (repeat after me!).  Flavors in food and wine are not that big of a deal when it comes to a successful match.

Flavors are very forgiving…they can be successful in either the “match” or the “contrast” mode.   But never, ever, attempt to pair to flavors until you have dealt with the tastes!  Flavors can be matched to highlight the flavor, such as herbal wine with herbal food.  This is called a “bridge flavor” and can make for a very successful match.  Or, flavors can be contrasted to make a meal balanced and interesting.  For instance, we can cool down a spicy food by pairing it with a fruity wine.

Texture…light-bodied, medium-bodied, rich, round, lean…

Textures are discerned using the tactile sense of touch.  Textures should usually (although not always…) be matched.  In other words, serve light bodied food with light bodied wine, and rich food with rich, full-bodied wine. However, there are some exceptions…if you want one part of the meal (that is, the food or the wine) to really shine, you can mix textures in what I like to call “the wind beneath my wings” effect.

Textures are generally best matched rich for rich or light on light, however exceptions can be interesting.

MAJOR CAVEAT: People vary in the ability to perceive and enjoy tastes, flavors, and textures as well as a range of food and wine (by themselves and in any combination). If it works for you…go for it!

 So….that’s just the beginning. You are two more posts away from being a wine and food genius!