Perfect Pairings: Wine with Holiday Ham

I know, we just made it through Thanksgiving, but Christmas and all those other big winter holidays are just around the corner! Hurry up! Get that living room cleaned up and start on your next grocery list!  And don’t forget a list for the wine shop.  Have no fear, over the next few days The Bubbly Professor will have some tips for your next holiday feast, whether it centers on glazed ham, beef tenderloin, or rack of lamb.  We’ll even consider the vegetarians who roam freely amongst the meat-laden festivities. Click here for suggestions on wines to pair with roast turkey.  Keep reading to pair wine with holiday ham.

If your next big, crazy holiday gathering is going to feature a big, juicy holiday ham, the centerpiece of your meal will probably be glazed with maple or pierced with cloves. On the side, you are likely to find the standard line-up of holiday buffet dishes, including scalloped potatoes, sweet potatoes, brandied peaches, and green beans.

Your first wine pairing guideline is to keep your wine choices centered around white wines, rosés, or lighter styles of red, so as not to clash with the inevitable sweetness on your plate and to avoid overpowering the entrée.  As usual with holiday feasts, the array of side dishes offer up a wide variety of tastes and flavors, so our challenge is to find a wine that doesn’t wrestle with the rest of the meal.  Follow these rules to a great holiday match!

Rule #1 – Keep it Light to Medium Bodied – A meal based on ham will need a light to medium bodied wine in order to not overpower the main course in terms of both weight and flavors.  For best results choose a sparkling wine, a white wine, or a rosé.  If you just must have a red wine, keep to the lighter styles; Beaujolais and Pinot Noir are great choices, but this is not the time to whip out the Earthquake Zinfandel (however much I love it)!

Rule #2 – Choose a Wine with Lots of Fruity Flavors – A dinner based on ham will most likely contain a side dish based on peaches, raisins, or sweet potatoes.  While it is very hard to predict flavor-based reactions in wine and food pairings (as opposed to taste-based, which can be predicted quite accurately), fruity flavors in food will often make your wine seem less fruity.  In order to avoid a fruit-on-fruit wrestling match and ending up with insipid-tasting wine, make sure the wine has fruity flavors to begin with.

Rule #3 – A Wine with a Touch of Sweetness will be a great match, especially if your Ham is Honey-Baked or Brown Sugar-Glazed.  This is important:  sweetness in food makes wine taste less sweet and more acidic.  So…if your ham is coated with a sugary or sweet glaze, this rule cannot be ignored!  Don’t worry about having sweet wines on the dinner table ….the sweetness in the food will make the wine taste dry.  Trust me on this one!  Besides, don’t forget that your open-door policy on holidays most likely means that your guests have a broad range of preferences in wine, and this is one case where the Moscato drinkers and the sweet wine lovers may just have an edge.  Hey, a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui never hurt anybody!

Rule #4 – Choose a Wine with Moderate Amounts of Alcohol – This is a good rule on many levels.  For one, ham usually contains a good deal of salty flavors.  And, the sad fact of the matter is that salty flavors can clash with the taste of alcohol, as well as with high tannin wines, which is the reason behind the moratorium on heavy reds. And don’t forget that high alcohol wines can lead to drunken holiday family feuds, at least in my recent experience.

Rule #5 – If You Like Spicy Foods, Match Spice for Spice – If you like spicy flavors in your holiday ham, you can build a flavor bridge by pairing your dinner with a wine with natural spice flavors.  As mentioned earlier, the result of flavor pairings are hard to predict, but generally spicy flavors in food and wine enhance each other. For a spicy feast, try a Riesling, a Gewürztraminer, or a Rosé made from Sangiovese.

Bubbly Professor Wine Suggestions For Holiday Ham

  • Riesling from Alsace, Germany, or Washington State…for the wine adventurer, try finding a single winery that offers wines in varying levels of sweetness.  Tasting them along with the meal will make for an interesting feast!
  • Vouvray, either sparkling or still, or any other Chenin Blanc-based wine from the Loire.
  • Rosé…just about any Rosé would be lovely, and this might be a time where Rosé d’Anjou with its slight hint of sweetness will absolutely shine.  A rosé made from Sangiovese, which to me always seems to have a charming little hint of baking spice in the flavor would also work.  If you have a rich uncle, tell him to bring Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, and save a bottle for me!
  • Pinot Gris from Alsace or Oregon – this is an under-appreciated wine if ever there was one.  For less than $20.00 a bottle, grab a bottle of Adelsheim Pinot Gris from Oregon’s Willamette Valley.  For a bit more dough, try just about any Pinot Gris from Alsace – I guarantee you will love it!
  • Gewürztraminer…my favorite “love it or hate it” wine will really shine with the flavors of a holiday ham feast.  Germany and Alsace make terrific dry varieties, and some of the versions from California have a slight hint of sweetness.
  • Rosé Champagne might just be the perfect choice.  Go for broke and load up the table with Laurent Perrier Brut Rosé, or buy Cristalino Cava Brut Rosé by the case (at around $6.00 a delicious bottle you can afford it.)   Or, buy the Cava for your guests and keep a secret stash of Laurent Perrier in the bedroom mini-fridge just for you and your bestie.
  • Prosecco is a good choice, but then it just about always is!
  • For the wine adventurous…try a Cabernet-Franc based red wine from the Loire, such as Chinon and Bourgueil.
  • Red Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais or Oregon Pinot Noir.  You just can’t go wrong with these food-loving wines.
  • Barbera d’Asti, Dolcetto d’Alba, or a nice Chianti. Sure to please the lovers of earthy red wines.
  • For the sweet wine aficionados in the crowd, grab a few bottles of Moscato d’Asti and Brachetto d’Acqui.  These sweeties will work for the whole meal from spiced cashews to pecan pie!

Remember to relax and enjoy the holidays, and don’t stress over the wine choices.  Choose something you love and something that your guests will be comfortable with, whether they be wine newbies or wine adventurers!

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

Perfect Pairings: Amazeballs and Tempranillo

In honor of International Tempranillo Day 2012, I offer up my “Most Amazing Meatballs” Recipe!  These meatballs remind me of the tapas-style Albondigas the anh (adorable new husband) and I feasted on in Madrid just a few short months ago.

These meatballs can be served up however you like…with spaghetti, on a sandwich, as a tapa, or you can do like I do and “pretend” to eat healthy by serving them up with a nice green vegetable.  Just don’t forget the Tempranillo!

For more information on Tempranillo and suggested food pairings, see my Tempranillo Cheat Sheet.

The Bubbly Professor’s Amazing Meatballs:


  • 1 lb. Ground Beef
  • 1 lb. Pork Sausage (bulk)
  • 1 cup dried bread crumbs
  • 2 T. finely chopped Parsley
  • 1/2 grated Parmesan Cheese
  • 2 t. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Pepper
  • 1 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup water

For the Sauce:

  • 2 cups chopped Sweet Onion
  • 1 T. minced Garlic
  • 2 T. olive oil
  • 1 cup Tempranillo (or other dry red wine)
  • 2 – 28 oz. cans of Crushed Tomatoes
  • 1 T. chopped Parsley
  • 1 T. Kosher Salt
  • 1 t. freshly ground Black Peper
  • 1 t. ground Cinnamon

For the Amazeballs:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350º.
  2. Crack the egg into a small bowl and beat well with 1 cup water.  Set aside.
  3. Place the ground beef, pork sausage, bread crumbs, parsley, Parmesan cheese, salt, and pepper together in a large bowl and mix well to combine.  You have to get your hands in there.
  4. Pour the egg and water mixture over the top and mix well again to combine.
  5. Divide the meatball mixture roughly in half and form each “half” into eight meatballs.  You should have a total of 16 meatballs, about 2-inches in diameter each.
  6. Place the amazeballs on an oiled cookie sheet and bake 350º for 20 minutes.

For the Sauce:

  1. Sauté the onion and garlic in 2 T. olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.  Watch the pan so the onions and garlic do not brown, you just want them to soften.
  2. Add the diced tomatoes and their juice, the wine, salt, pepper, and cinnamon and simmer over low heat for 40 minutes.
  3. Add the seasoning, adjust the seasoning, and add the finished meatballs.
  4. Simmer the meatballs for five minutes and eat immediately, that evening, or the next day.  This is one of those dishes that gets better after a few days.  The meatballs also freeze beautifully in the sauce.  If you eat all the meatballs and have sauce leftover, use it to make a pasta dish or whatever strikes your fancy.

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

Perfect Pairings: Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic and Viognier

Chicken with Forty (yes, forty) Cloves of Garlic is one of my favorite cold weather dishes.  A flavorful chicken braise like this is not a quick dish to put together, but it is a great kitchen project for a cold weather Sunday.  This dish is also something of a miracle in the way it transforms ordinary, inexpensive ingredients into a meal with delicious, elegant flavors. 

Don’t let the forty cloves of garlic, which is quite literal, frighten you away.  The slow-roasting and simmering process takes away the bitter bite of the garlic and leaves earthy richness in its place.

I’ve chosen this dish as a “perfect pairing partner” for Viognier, but it could be a perfect partner for a number of wines.  I know a lot of people would choose a rich, butter Chardonnay to pair with this dish, and I agree with that whole-heartedly.  I also agree that it could pair equally well with unoaked Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Sauvignon Blanc, or Fumé Blanc.  It could fare well with Beaujolais, Pinot Noir, Champagne or Rosé.  It’s a wine-loving dish if ever there was one.

Why Viognier?

This recipe for Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic gets it delicious flavor from slow simmering,   caramelization, and sauce reduction.  While all this slow cooking is going on, the umami-rich chicken flavors blend with the earthiness and complexity of the herbs and garlic. It all adds up to a delicious dish! 

However, the reason I chose Viognier as the perfect pairing for this dish lies more in what the recipe does NOT include rather than what it does. While many recipes use a squeeze of lemon, a dice of tomatoes or a splash of vinegar to add flavor complexity, this recipe does not have any acidity added at the end.  We humans love the turbocharged flavor a dash of acidity brings to a dish, but it also diminishes our ability to taste the acidity in a wine. That’s one of the reasons why highly acidic white wines pair so well with seafood, salads, and Italian food!

However, acidity in food can kill a wine like Viognier.  A typical Viognier is a relatively low acid wine, so it’s generally not a good match for high acid food.  When paired with a high acid dish like Salmon with fresh Lemon, Viognier can transform from a rich, round, and delightful wine into something that tastes rather flat and bitter.  A dish like this with little or no acidity is Viognier’s chance to shine! 

For more ideas about food pairing partners for Viognier, check out my “Cheat Sheet for Viognier”.

The Bubbly Professor’s Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic

This dish takes a good deal of time and effort, so I like to make a big batch.  This recipe will feed 6 hungry people, or you can feed four people and have some wonderful leftovers. 


  • 4 chicken breasts, complete with bones and skin
  • 4 chicken leg quarters, complete with bones and skin
  • 3 whole heads garlic
  • 2 T. butter
  • 2 T. Olive Oil
  • 1 cup dry white wine
  • 2  cups chicken stock
  • 1 t. dried thyme
  • 2 T. flour
  • 2 T. Heavy Cream
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste


  1. Separate the cloves of garlic and drop them, unpeeled, into a pot of simmering water.  Let simmer for 60 seconds, then cool them quickly by shocking them in ice water.  Drain the garlic, pat dry and peel.  The garlic skins should slip easily off.
  2. Pat the chicken pieces dry with paper towels.  Liberally season both sides with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
  3. Heat the butter and olive oil over medium heat in a large skillet or dutch oven.  If you don’t have such fancy implements, a small stock pot will do.  Add the chicken pieces, in a single layer, skin side down, and saute until golden brown, at least 3 – 5 minutes on each side.  You will need to do this in several batches, moving the browned chicken off to the side untill all the chicken has had its turn. Don’t worry that the chicken is not cooked through; it will cook to tenderness during the braise.
  4. When all the chicken is browned and removed, lower the heat.  Add the peeled garlic to the pot and sauté the garlic, stirring continuously, for five minutes until the garlic is just golden.  Don’t let the garlic burn or get too brown, as this can lead to bitterness.
  5. When the garlic is golden, keep it in the pot and add 1/2 cup of the chicken stock.  Raise the heat and allow the mixture to come to a simmer while continuously scraping the bottom of the pan to remove the browned bits from the bottom of the pot.  Add the remaining stock, the wine, and the dried thyme, and return the chicken to the pot.
  6. Allow the mixture to return to a boil, then turn the heat down low, cover the pot and simmer for 30 minutes. 
  7. When ready to serve, remove the chicken to a platter.  Cover it with aluminium foil to keep the chicken warm while you finish the sauce.
  8. In a small bowl, which together the 2 tablespoons flour and 2 tablespoons cool water.  While whisking continuously, add 1/2 cup of the still-hot braising liquid to the bowl, then quickly whisk the mixture back into the pot.  Whisk for 2 – 3 minutes while simmering, until the sauce begins to thicken.  Finish the sauce by adding the cream and adjust the seasoning, if necessary.
  9. Pour the sauce and the garlic over the chicken, and enjoy.  This makes a great dinner with either a simple vegetable dish or a salad.
  10. Don’t forget the Viognier!  

The ABC’s of Wine and Cheese

The most beloved culinary duo in the world is undoubtedly wine with cheese. It’s easy to understand why:  in most cases, wine and cheese bring out the best in each other!

As you probably know, cheese is mostly fat and protein (sorry, dieters!!).  The fat content in cheese will smooth out the acid taste in any wine, making it seem smoother and rounder.  The proteins as well as the fat in cheese smoothes out the tannins in wine, making wines taste velvety and soft.  As for the wine, wine is mostly alcohol and water, with a multitude of tastes and flavors, including acids and tannin.  Acid and tannins cleanse your palate, bringing out the full flavor of the cheese.  It’s a match made in heaven!

The Bubbly Professor’s Rules for Wine and Cheese

While wine and cheese are made for each other, there is such diversity in both worlds that some rules must apply. Follow these rules to ensure a perfect match!

1. Pair soft cheeses with high acid wines.  Soft cheeses like Brie, Camembert, and Ricotta, remain soft by retaining most of their moisture, or whey. The curds are usually gathered, placed in molds, and left to age in humid atmospheres from a few days to a few weeks, and are most flavorful when eaten at room temperature.  Softer cheeses coat the mouth and may block many of wine’s more subtle flavors.  A high-acid wine will cut through the texture of soft cheeses, and makes a great combination.

  • The Perfect Match for Soft Cheeses:  High-acid White Wines such as Chardonnay, White Bordeaux, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, or Pinot Gris, Sparkling Wines, or High-Acid fruity reds such as Barbera, Pinot Noir, or Beaujolais.

2.  Pair goat cheeses and brine cheeses with the highest acid white wine you can find!  Goat Cheeses, such as Chevre, Montrachet, and Vacherin, often have a delicious, sharp, tangy flavor.  Likewise, Brine cheeses, such as Feta, can have a sharp acidic flavor, as well as a salty taste.  Both of these factors (salt and acid) call for a high-acid wine.  The tang of the cheese will make a wine that is very high acid taste much smoother.  This can bring a sharp wine into perfect balance, but by the same token can make a moderate or low-acid wine taste flat and flabby.  Salt and acid is a great match, while salt and tannin can clash big time. This rule is a deal breaker…don’t break it!

  •  The Perfect Match for Goat Cheeses:Sauvignon Blanc, White Bordeaux, Riesling or other high-acid white wines.    

  3.  Pair semi-firm cheeses with full-bodied whites or light-bodied reds.  The category of Semi-firm cheeses includes Havarti, Monterey Jack, Muenster, and GoudaThese cheeses are aged for a short time in a damp environment, drying them slightly and leaving them with a mild, sometimes nutty, flavor.  The mild flavors of these cheeses means there is little chance of a flavor clash, so semi-firm cheeses go well with many wines.  A full-bodied, full-flavored white is a great match, cleansing the palate with its acidity and adding its own flavors to the mix.  If you would like to pair these cheeses with a red wine, make it a fruity, light-bodied red so the wine does not overpower the flavor of the cheese.  

  • The Perfect Match for Semi-Firm Cheeses:  Full bodied whites such as Chardonnay, some versions of Sauvignon Blanc, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, or Pinot Gris.  The best red matches include Barbera, Dolcetto, Merlot, Beaujolais, or Pinot Noir.

4.  Pair firm cheeses with fruity, full-bodied white wines.  Firm cheeses include Swiss, Emmentaler, Gruyere, Manchego, and Jarlsberg. These cheeses are aged anywhere from2 to 18 months. Aging both reduces moisture content and increases the rich, nutty flavors so beloved in these cheeses. Usually, the most flavorful and sharp cheeses are aged the longest.  These cheeses, because of their sharp, strong flavor, pair well with white wines with fruity, even sweet flavors, and fuller-bodied wines.  These cheeses will make red wines taste very smooth and velvety, but the flavor of a red wine will overpower the nutty or smoky flavors of the cheese.

  • The Perfect Match for Firm Cheeses:  Pinot Gris, Pinot Grigio, Fume Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Blanc, Albarino, White Rioja, White Bordeaux, Alsatian Whites…any full bodied white is worth a try!

 5.  Pair Cheddar Cheeses with rich red wines. A cheese originally from Great Britain, Cheddar is now made all over the world. In the U.S., three general types of Cheddar are produced — Mild Cheddar, usually aged one to three months; Medium Cheddar, generally aged for three to six months; and Aged Cheddar, typically aged six months or more. Cheddar is one of the most popular table cheeses in the world, and is used for a wide range of purposes.  Cheddar’s distinctive flavor pairs wonderfully with rich red wines.  If your rich red wine has fruit flavors, spicy flavors, and soft tannins, so much the better!

  • The Perfect Match for Cheddar Cheeses: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel, RedBordeaux,Rhone Reds, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, or Shiraz.

 6.  Pair Colby Cheese with fruity red wines.  Named after Colby Wisconsin, the town of its origin, Colby is now primarily made inNew   Zealand. This moist cheese lacks the sharpness of cheddar and needs a milder companion.

  • The Perfect Match for Colby Cheeses:  Fruity Reds such as Barbera, Dolcetto,Beaujolais or Pinot Noir.

  7. Pair Provolone or Mozzarella with full-flavored reds.  Provolone and Mozzarella are supple and pliable with a great “toothsome” texture.  The flavor of both is mild, nutty, and delicate, yet they can stand up to full-flavored red wines.  These cheeses for a great basis for a cheese and red wine match, especially if one wants the wine to shine.  The cheese’s firm texture allows it to stand up to the tannin and acidity of a red wine, while its delicate flavors will allow the flavors of the wine to stand out.

  • The Perfect Match for Mozzarella and Provolone: Chianti, Sangiovese, Zinfandel, Merlot, Syrah, Tempranillo, Red Rioja, Red Bordeaux, Rhone Reds, or Cabernet Franc.

8. For a surprisingly good match, pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with crisp white wines.   Extra Firm Cheeses like Parmesan and Romano have the least residual moisture of any fresh cheese. A couple days after they are placed into molds, they are salted in brine, and left to mature for 2 to 7 years. Not coincidentally, extra firm cheeses have a sharp, salty flavor. For a surprising treat, pair salty, crumbly Parmesan or Romano with a high acid white wine.  Make it a sparkling Prosecco and feel the fireworks go off in your mouth!  This style of pairing perks up the flavor of the cheese and accentuates the salty “grano” in extra firm cheeses.  

  • The Perfect White Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Prosecco!  You will love it!  Also try any fruity, acidic white wine.  Italy makes lots of them, such as Fiano, Gavi, Trebbiano, Orvieto, Vernaccia, Vermentino, and Soave…they would all be great!

 9. Try the traditional match and pair extra firm cheeses like Parmesan and Romano with robust red wines. As long as you watch the tannin level, a full-flavored red wine is a great match for the full flavor and heavy texture of Parmesan and Romano Cheeses.  The firm fats and protein in the cheese will smooth out any rough edges, and you will have a classic, heart-warming taste combination. 

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Parmesan and Romano: Chianti, Sangiovese, Valpolicella, Barbaresco, and any other medium to full bodied, full-flavored red wine from Italy.  For a cross-cultural match, try Zinfandel, Merlot, Cabernet, or Shiraz.

 10. For a study in contrasts, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with sweet, full-flavored wines.  Pairing sweet, flavorful wines with salty, savory blue cheese is the food and wine worlds “picture perfect” example of pairing wine and food based on a contrast of tastes and flavors.  As an added bonus, these pairings emphasize the flavor of its opposite, and can sometimes result in what I call “synergy”, or the sum of the whole being more than its component parts. (Translation:  new, added flavor layers.)

  • The Perfect Sweet Wine Match for Blue Cheeses: Sweet, full-flavored wines such as Sauternes, Ruby Port, Sweet Muscats, Vintage Port, or Late Harvest Zinfandel.

 11. On a night when full-bodied, full-flavored wrestling is on the menu, pair Roquefort, Stilton, or other Blue Cheeses with fruity, spicy, red Wines.  This seems to make a little more sense…and blue cheeses have a wonderful flavor affinity for fruity red wines.  The fruit flavor of the wine is a counterpoint to the pungency of the cheese, and earthy flavors abound!  For an added layer of pairing pleasure, throw some walnuts into the mix.

  • The Perfect Red Wine Match for Blue Cheeses:  Zinfandel, Shiraz, Malbec, Merlot, Carmenere, or Pinot Noir


12.  Match flavors.  Now things can start to get really interesting.  Be sure and abide by the rules above, but within the guidelines, pick a flavor in your cheese such as nutty, earthy, herbal, creamy, or smoky, and match it with a flavor in your wine.  This is known as a “flavor bridge” and it can be amazing!  In order for this to really work, you have to do some serious tasting…going by generalities just won’t cut it.  So, taste that cheese, and open a few bottles of wine.  Find a pair that matches in flavor, and prepare to be amazed! 

  • The Perfect Flavor Match:  You can have fun and find your own flavor matches, but here are some examples that might work: 
    • Herb-flavored Cheeses with Sauvignon Blanc
    • Smoked cheeses with Gewurztraminer
    • Nutty Cheeses with Chardonnay or Tawny Port
    • Stilton and Sauternes (earthy flavor match…yum…)

13.  A Word of Caution:  Beware of Bitter.  Some of my favorite cheeses, such as Stilton, Roquefort, and Gorgonzola, have a slight “undertaste” of bitterness to them.  This slight bitter taste makes a wonderful platform for an otherwise complex flavor profile…think of the bitter hit in espresso or the taste or field greens.  Bitterness, however, is a unique topic in food and wine pairing.  While most tastes (such as sweetness or acidity) in food and wine cancel each other out to a certain extent, bitter tastes in food and wine can emphasize each other, sometimes to detrimental effect.  If your cheese has a bit of bitter, make sure the wine you serve has little or no bitterness.  Wine generally gets bitter tastes from high levels of alcohol, oak, or tannin.  This factor will vary widely even among wines of the same grape and same region, so, unless the wine is known for this quality (such as Amarone), you will have to open a bottle to judge a wine’s bitterness.

  • The Perfect Match for Cheese with Bitter Tastes:  Keep it low alcohol, low oak, and low tannin.  Go for sweet or very fruity wines.

14.  Another Word of Caution:  Salt and Tannin can clash. One of the things that makes cheese so delightful is its saltiness, which lend a palate punch to anything it touches.  However, in some cases, salt in food can clash with tannin in wine, making a weird, metallic taste.  The fat content in cheese keeps this problem to a minimum, but it does happen sometimes.  If you are ever combining a rich, salty cheese with a red wine and something tastes kind of bitter, metallic, or just plain scary, it just might be the war of the salts and the tannins.  Switch to a lower-tannin wine, and all will be saved.

  • The Perfect Match for Salty Cheeses:  Keep it low tannin!  Any red wine has the potential to clash with salty cheeses, so make sure the tannins in your red wines are delicate, smooth, or mature.  Open up that bottle and have a taste…it’s the only way to really tell.

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 on generalities.  Wine and food are all about creativity and subtlety so take each wine and dish on its own merits. 

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!

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


The Truth about Food and Wine Pairing!

Or, as Miss Jane likes to call it, “Wine and Food – Deconstructed”

 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, Bitter, Oil, and Tannin.

A taste component, as you should have learned in elementary school, is something that can be perceived using just your tongue, or your taste buds – remember the “tongue map” and the areas where you can detect salt, sweet, acid, and bitter?  Time to dust off that memory!  I also include tannin and oil as taste components, as many scientists believe they are actaully 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 must be dealt with to make a successful 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, Spicy, 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…

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.

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

Check back tomorrow for installment number two.