You order a glass of your favorite Pinot Noir from the menu. Taking those first few precious sips the bright fruity cherry bomb reveals itself and all things are right in the world again! As you explain the latest office drama to friends, the meal arrives. It’s delicious, no wonder it’s the restaurant’s most popular dish. Yet as you cleanse your palate with your glass of wine you notice something is off. That glass of Pinot Noir is simply not what you remembered just a few minutes earlier. Sound familiar?
Sadly, it happens all too often and has some people writing off an entire wine varietal. Remembering a few basic rules will greatly increase your chances of better food & wine pairings and get you out of your wine comfort zone.
Keep It Local
PAIR WINE BASED ON THE SAME REGION AS THE FOOD
The classic “if it grows together, it goes together” applies. This rule is the most important as it will get you close to 80% success with most pairings. Great wine expresses the characteristics of its region just like the food itself meaning the chances of having a harmonious pairing greatly increase.
Tip: Next time you buy wines from a certain region, pick up a regional cookbook to dive deeper into this concept.
Use Your Senses
EQUAL THE WEIGHT OF FOOD TO WINE
We instantly understand the sensation when someone describes a dish as light or heavy. This concept applies to wine as well and is better described as light to full-bodied wine. Rich (heavy) dishes such as a steak need a fuller-bodied wine like a Zinfandel to hold its own. A lighter dish such as grilled shrimp would do best with a light-bodied white like Pinot Grigio.
PAIR THE INTENSITY OF FLAVORS
Building onto the concept of equal weights for pairing wine, the intensity of flavors is another key factor in choosing the right wine. Our palates love a diversity of flavors and textures which is where pairings can get a little more advanced.
Heavy/Bold – Bacon Cheeseburger with Aged Cheddar & Cabernet Sauvignon
Heavy/Muted – Cacio e Pepe & Unoaked Chardonnay
Light/Bold – Stuffed Poblano Peppers & Reisling
Light/Muted – Poached Fish & Soave
TEMPERATURE OF WINE SIMILAR TO FOOD
What types of food do you crave as the seasons change? When the leaves change and the cool crisp air sets in the soups, chili, and pasta cravings heighten. Conversely, in the heat of the summer, a chilled ceviche or Cesar chicken wrap calls your name. Follow this pattern when selecting wine. Typically wines served chilled are best in the summer and room-temperature works better when it’s cold outside with a warm dish.
This rule is for the foodies. It sounds too simple but just think about the components of a dish and how it feels in your mouth. Is it bitter, sour, sweet, salty, or a combination of many? Wine naturally has these same components and most of the time they play well together.
Acidic food loves acidic wine.
A tangy vinaigrette over bitter green salad would need a higher acidic wine such as Sauvignon Blanc.
Red sauces are high in acidity and would do well with medium-bodied red wines that are naturally higher in acid such as Sangiovese.
Rich & fatty proteins require more tannins.
A heavy protein such as a steak or hamburger requires a wine that is big and bold to hold its own and cleanse the palate. Besides the always popular California Cabernet Sauvignon, try Tempranillo, Nero d’Avola, or Bordeaux Blend for more variety.
Desserts want more dessert.
Initially, you might think to counteract the sweetness in a dessert that a dry wine would be best paired. However, the tannins found in dry red wines often make the dessert taste bitter.
Balance the spice with chilled off-dry wines.
Bold wines will increase the flavor of the spiciness in the food. Opting for a chilled wine with a little sweetness will bring the two contrasting flavors into harmony. A Pinot Gris from Alsace France, off-dry German Reisling, or off-dry Gewurztraminer are all great options for spicy foods.
Pungent flavors need higher acidity and sweetness.
Rotten stinky cheese lovers this is your jam! Literally. It’s why on a cheese board the jam tastes the best with the Gorgonzola as the sweetness counteracts the pungency of the cheese.
Bitter foods are not a fan of tannins.
Has anyone ever recommended a Cab with your house salad? Hopefully not! The reason is that big and bold red wines have lots of tannins (aka bitterness) and when paired with bitter foods it amplifies the bitter. Look for wines with minimal to zero tannins with minerality and sweetness.