Marriages made in heaven
A quick guide to pairing your wine with your food
Food and wine can give such pleasure on many levels. Combine them together successfully and you only enhance your enjoyment. You need to think about the characteristics of both the wine and the food – they need to be balanced and harmonious so that neither overpowers the other.
Some wines have inherent features and flavours that immediately lend themselves to certain dishes. An oak aged white (such as a good Burgundy) carries vanilla notes and a creamy butteriness that would suit chicken in a creamy sauce.
The science bit
At the end of the day, we know what we like. But there is a usually a scientific reason for what we think ‘works’ for us, or not, when it comes to taste.
Aim to balance the weight of the food with that of the wine. Think hearty casseroles paired with a chunky red wine, or a delicate white with fish. A fuller style white (a well rounded, oaked Chardonnay perhaps) may actually be better with a heavy meat dish than a lighter red such as a light Beaujolais.
Again, balance full flavoured dishes with full flavoured wines. This is different from weight: a risotto is heavy but likely to be delicate in flavour. In other words, it depends on the other ingredients, not the rice. Certain whites have distinctive flavour and intensity of character: that’s why Gewurtztraminer can pair well with a light curry, or a dry Riesling can take on a variety of zesty dishes, including Asian or Chinese.
Acid plays a key role in any wine, adding vibrancy. Without it, a wine will be flat and flabby, with no bite. Acid will cut through fatty food, again helping to achieve balance and cleansing the palate.
Salt is a key, natural feature of many foods. Many salty foods can be enhanced with a touch of sweetness, such as salty cured ham served with a sweetish fruit glaze or a piece of cheese served with apple or grapes.
Tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks and is present in red wine mostly and it is what makes your mouth pucker and seem dry. It is crucial in a good wine, giving it backbone and structure – too much can be unpleasant, too little and the wine is overly soft and flabby. A good quality wine will be tannic (and harshly unpleasant) when young but the astringency softens with age as the tannins recede and the wine takes on more complexity.
Fatty foods like duck or lamb work well with red wine. This is because tannin molecules attach themselves to the protein molecules as you eat. A barbecue-fresh burger will leave coat the mouth with fatty protein as you eat, while a swig of red wine will allow the tannins to cleanse the mouth.
Like acidity, sweetness can help counter rich food. Sweet food served with dry wine never works so the mantra should be to always ensure the wine is sweeter than the food. Consider how dessert wines like Sauternes or Barsac are served with rich foie gras.
Smoked salmon and Champagne
A perfect marriage of dry acidity and fruity flavour, with the oily fish tempered by the crisp acid and of course the bubbles.
Spaghetti Bolognese and Chianti
Good Italian wines – including also Valpolicella and Barbera – have strong acidity which cuts through the richness and acidity of the tomatoes and olive oil.
Paella and Rioja
A decent Rioja will have good acidity and fruitiness to cut through the intensity of saffron and chorizo, but be delicate enough to not smother prawns and chicken.
Seafood and Muscadet
A light white wine with almost a tangy, salty edge to it and a high acidity that cuts through the delicate seafood flavours.
Sauvignon Blanc and Goats Cheese
A French classic: a high acid white from the upper Loire (Pouilly Fumé perhaps, or Sancerre) is refreshing and cuts through the tangy dryness of the rich, creamy cheese.
Salmon and Pinot Noir
Salmon is light and delicate, with a little oiliness. Pinot Noir is light and has good acidity but also a little vegetal smokiness and a touch of oak. Cooked in the appropriate way, this can be a sensational match and totally counter to the received wisdom of the ‘white with fish’ adage.
Belle France favourites
At Belle France we are partial to a decent glass of wine and, naturally, a trip to France allows us to indulge when not walking or cycling the scenic back roads. A refreshing Kir at the end of the day is a great start to the evening.
Depending on food and mood, an Alsace white is always a hit, perhaps a zingy Pinot Blanc. Or a light, juicy Loire red – maybe Saumur Champigny, often light enough to be served slightly chilled. Actually a pichet of house Gamay rarely disappoints.
For something chunkier, a solid red from the south-west ticks all the boxes for us. Ideally a good value Bergerac, Corbières or, even better, Gaillac (a hotelier once poured me a glass, saying it tastes of strawberries. And it did! And in a very good way).
And as for what to pair them with, well you have the guidelines above. But at the end of the day, its about what you enjoy and, more importantly, the company you are with.
Image by Wine Folly.
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