How to Determine a Good Wine Pairing
Do you go to the liquor store, having decided to entertain with wine, and stare at the vast selection feeling overwhelmed and not knowing where to start? Well, you are not alone! Day after day, people find themselves with no idea about how to achieve the best wine pairing with the meal they are serving. Oftentimes they just pick the wine bottle with the nicest label or worse than that, no wine at all.
It can be pretty daunting, for sure. Luckily, we are here to help. With just a few simple tips to follow, you can feel confident in making your choice. You don’t have to act like a wine snob to know what to do either; just read on for an easy lesson.
The Basics of Wine Pairing
The basic guideline when choosing which wine to pair with what food, is colour matching. No, not like matching your tie to your socks – this is about flavours. Red wine traditionally goes with meat and white wine with fish & poultry. Once you have a bit of practice, you can get more adventurous. Then you can pair whatever wine you like with whatever food you like. There is no hard and fast rule; it’s all about personal taste.
The goal is to create a balance of power between the food and the wine. That means choosing a lighter wine with lighter foods and heavier wines with heavier foods. The weight, or body of food, roughly corresponds to the amount of carbohydrates, protein, and fat in the food. When referring to the weight of the wine, this roughly corresponds to the alcoholic content.
A lighter food or wine corresponding with a heavier counterpart could overwhelm the lighter partner, rendering the other flavours mute. Keeping the food and wine balanced means that you will be able to enjoy both and they will complement each other, rather than becoming flavour adversaries.
Food & Wine Pairing
Another way to pair wine and food is to consider the interaction of wine’s basic components – sweetness, tannin, acidity, and alcohol content. Wines are categorized by these four basic components and each has an impact on the flavour of the food eaten with them.
Sweet wines, when paired with foods which are sweeter, will make the wine taste less sweet. Pair a sweet wine with spicy or peppery foods to soften their intensity. Sweetness in food will also emphasize the tannin and acidity flavours in the wine. The wine should always be sweeter than the food so that the wine’s taste will not seem flat.
Acids & Tannins
Tannin gives a wine its bitter taste and a dry, astringent mouthfeel comparable to very strong tea. Pairing wines high in tannins with foods that are high in salt can have a sweetening effect for the wine.
Acidity in wine can taste less so when paired with foods that are high in fat, or oils, which can mellow the acid flavour. In addition, a sweet-tasting food will accentuate the acidity flavour of a wine.
Alcohol in wine creates a sensation of both body and sweetness. Full-bodied wines tend to be higher in alcohol and are referred to as “hot.” Typically, lighter-bodied wines tend to be lower in alcohol. Salty foods can make high alcohol wines taste bitter, while spicy foods can make high alcohol wines taste even hotter.
The Proof Is In The Taste
A great way to learn about choosing and enjoying wine is by attending a wine tasting. Whether held at a winery or enjoyed at a farmer’s market or trade show display, tasting is a sure way to discover what you like.
Additionally, attending a wine tasting would give you an opportunity to ask questions from the experts about everything from stemware to serving temperature to how to estimate required quantities; things that a great host or hostess needs to know.
For now, here are some tried and true wine and food pairings to try. They are a good place to start your education. Before you know it, you will be confidently mixing, matching and creating your own favourite pairings!
Light 11%-12.5% alcohol
Tasting notes: Fresh, young and fruity wines, bright acidity and moderate tannins
- Gamay noir
- Pinot noir
- Older reds
- Light Cabernet franc
Pairs well with: Rich fish with red wine or cream sauces, game birds, roasted fowl, pasta or risotto, pizza, lamb, firm cheeses
Rich 12.5%-14.9% alcohol
Tasting notes: Ripe with fruit flavours of berries or plums, accents of smoke, toast or spice; firm tannins; great with meat
- Cabernet sauvignon
- Cabernet franc
- Bordeaux blends
- Marechal foch
- Baco noir
- Full-bodied Pinot noir
- Gamay noir
Pairs well with: Rabbit, poultry, game birds in herbs; beef; lamb; meat & vegetable stews, bean-based dishes with hearty vegetables, pasta with long-simmered sauces; hard cheeses
Sweet 10%-20% alcohol
Tasting notes: High alcohol and sugar; best after dinner or anytime on their own
- Fortified fruit wine
Pairs well with: Nuts, blue-veined cheeses
Light 7.5%-11% alcohol
Tasting notes: Crisp acidity, lunch or aperitifs, goes well with acid-based foods
- Pinot blanc
- Pinot gris
- Dry Riesling
- Unoaked Chardonnay
- Sauvignon blanc
Pairs well with: Clams or oysters, delicate fish, soft cheeses, steamed vegetables
Medium 11.5%-13.5% alcohol
Tasting notes: For main courses, can stand up to strong flavours
- Oaked Chardonnay
- Off dry Riesling
- Sauvignon blanc
- Late harvest
Pairs well with: Crab, lobster, shrimp, salmon, tuna, mackerel, roast chicken or turkey, baked ham, roasted pork or veal, pasta with cream sauce, semi-soft cheeses, poached fruit, flans and crepes
Heavy 14%-20% alcohol
Tasting notes: For after dinner since it is usually higher in sugar
Pairs well with: Hard cheeses
To Sum It Up
You now have everything you need to choose wines wisely! We are certain you will be the envy of your happy guests.
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