Pairing your everyday food with wine is not something everyone plans their day around. A great food and wine experience is often saved for an expensive dinner out. However, typically, following such a dinner, though the dining experience might have been enjoyable, you learn nothing from it. There is a method both scientific and artistic in nature surrounding the concept of pairing wine with food, but it does not have to be reserved for a night in which you are going to put a sizable dent in your wallet. Read on with us and check out how simplified it can be to pair your everyday foods, like the dishes you make at home, with wines you might already have in your cellar or wine cabinet.
Wine Pairing Myth Debunked
Wine pairing has had a long-established myth that many hosts lived and swore by. The standard rule used to be that "red food" (steaks, venison, hearty vegetables, bison) should exclusively be paired with red wine while white wine should be reserved for "white foods" (white sauced pastas, light vegetables, chicken, pork). This myth has long-since been thrown out the window as a general rule.
Meat & Red Wines
Match up your grilled steak or even hamburger with a big red wine. Sure, this may be an easy pick, but do you know why it works? The salty finish along with any fat in the meat is a great way to soften out those harsh tannins (the stuff that makes your mouth feel dry when you taste/drink red wines) and bring out other nuances such as fruit or more savory notes. Before you try it with a steak, get a big red wine, Cabernet Sauvignon for instance, and sip the wine on its own first. Take note of the structure, flavors, finish and tannin. Then have a taste of just some salt, and have another sip and see how the wine changes, even for just a few seconds. It won’t last long, because it does not have the structure of the meat along with the salt to carry the flavors and textures for a longer moment.
Pairing Wines with Cheeses
When pairing wines with cheeses, the best rule to follow is the matching of ages. The age of the cheese should determine which wines to select. For instance, the younger the cheese, the lighter-bodied your paired wine should be. For bigger wines, go with drier, more aged cheeses. For example:
- Fresh goat cheese should be paired with Sauvignon Blanc or a dry Pinot Gris
- Pair Chardonnay with a Swiss cheese like Gruyere
- Pinot Noir goes well with a soft Pecorino
- Cabernet Sauvignon can be paired with Parmesan or Asiago
Pairing Wines with Fish
If you are pairing wine with fish, match the fish’s fat content with the body of the wine. Of course when pairing wine with fish, you shouldn't go much bigger than a Pinot Noir or a light Merlot. If the fish is a white, flaky fish, stick with lighter and drier styles of white wine. If the fish originates from cold waters and has some fat, then you can go a little bigger with the wine. A Pinot Noir goes nice with salmon as the tannins balance with the fat content. But for Mackerel, Herring, Eel and Salmon, white wines of medium body that have been aged in oak make for a nice pairing. They still have a nice acidity to balance with the fat, and as most are served on the salty side, the salt will cut through the oaky aromatics and textures and bring forth more fruit in the wine.
Pairing Wines with Pasta
Just because your Bolognese sauce is red and big in flavor, does not mean you need a big wine. Bolognese, marinara and other tomato sauces are the biggest challenge to pair wines with. A big red wine will not make that pasta night more enjoyable. Most of them will overpower your dish. Go for a young, fruity red and one that has not been aged for a long time in oak. A red with maybe six months or so spent in a barrel maturing that is not new, works. The traditional wine actually made for red sauces in Italy was Nero d’Avola from Sicily. You can get a decent bottle for under $15, and it will change your Wednesday spaghetti night forever. Other options are Chianti, a lighter Zinfandel (red please), try one with an alcohol percentage around 13.5-14) or your favorite easy young red blend.
Wine & Spicy or Asian Cuisine
If you like spicy food or Asian cuisine with warm spices like curries and chilies, stay away from red wine. There aren’t too many red wines that match up well with these ethnic cuisines. There are a wide range of Asian foods and spicy foods, but they clash with red wines, so much so that if you were to try them together, you might think you bought a bad wine. This is not the case, it’s just a bad pairing.
The spice in the chilies and warm spices of curry have tannins that dry out your palate and keep you from salivating. The red wines have this same characteristic and have the same reaction on your palate. Try wines with a touch of residual sugar and acidity like Riesling, Pinot Gris, a fruity rose or if you like bubbles, try Champagne/Sparkling wines with ‘Sec’ on the label or ‘Demi-Sec’ or a Moscato. This is one exception to enjoying dessert-style wines with dinner.
What Wines go with Desert?
Desserts also warrant a wine pairing, and Port is often the chosen candidate. Its high alcohol level and sweet, fruity flavor compliments sweet desserts without overpowering them or drying out your palate. You might think that sweet on sweet would be overwhelming, but port is a hot wine, so the high alcohol content helps to cut the initial sweetness of both the dessert and wine, giving you a smooth continuation of sweetness without tipping over the climax barrier of your palate. Sherry is the dessert wine most often served in restaurants.