Wine and food are meant to be enjoyed together. A nice glass of wine always tastes better with a a hunk of cheese, forkful of steak, or drizzle of chocolate. Pairing food and wine can be an a challenge, but with the right tools and understanding of how to taste wine, you can learn the flavors of wine and get the most out of a glass of wine. Here are a few tips to pair wine with food.
Tips to Pair Wine with Food
Do me a favor. Grab yourself a bottle of white, and a bottle of red. Start with something easy and inexpensive, like Chardonnay or Chablis for the white; Cabernet or Merlot for the red. If you are feeling adventurous, try 3-4 different wines. Pour a glass of each and set them on the table with a few pieces of bread to clear your palate, as well as a notebook to take notes.
- Take a look at the white wine first. Swirl it around in the glass. How does it move? Does it run down the side of the glass fast (a lighter wine) or more slowly (a sweeter wine). Swirling the wine is called giving it legs.
- Smell the wine. What do you smell? Really think about it. Does it smell spicy? What kind of spice? Does it smell fruity, and if so, what fruits do you smell?
- Take a small sip. Roll it around in your mouth, from front to back. What do you taste? Is it sweet? Bitter? Tangy? Do you taste vanilla, coffee, grass, or wood? Before you swallow, while the wine is still in your mouth, take a deep breath. How does the “flavor” of the wine change? What flavors do you sense now? As you swallow, what is the last taste sensation you notice, otherwise known as the finish?
- Repeat the same procedure with each glass of wine that you taste. Take a bite of bread between each sip of wine to clear your palate. As you taste each wine, you will start to notice distinctive flavors in each wine. You may note berry flavors in the red, or pear or apple flavors in the white. Perhaps you will notice bold oak in the red wine, or a crisp “grassiness” in the white? Take notes so you can learn to distinguish flavors in each type of wine (Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Blanc, etc.)
Those flavors that you noticed in the wine are the same flavors that influence the flavor of your food. Delicate wines are best paired with delicate dishes. Bolder wines are best with hearty meats, and pasta dishes with a rich sauce. You can pair Pinot Grigio with a steak, but you probably won’t get the delicate citrus flavor from it as you would a nice chicken dish. Serve Cabernet Sauvignon with Tilapia or another light fish, and they will clash, particularly if the fish has a lemon sauce. Learn which flavors work best with each wine and add them in your notebook so you can refer to it in the future. Here is a general rule of thumb to wine and food pairings but remember that ultimately you are the judge and should pair wines and food to your own taste. Rules are meant to be broken.
- Sauvignon Blanc: Crisp white wine. Pairs with tangy citrus dishes, salads, and light fish and chicken dishes. Perfect with sushi.
- Pinot Grigio: Very light mineral or or fruit tasting white wine. Best with light seafood dishes with light or no sauce.
- Chardonnay: Fruity or buttery white wine with medium bold taste, best with fish dishes with cream or butter sauce.
- Champagne: Crisp and effervescent, pairs well with pretzels, salted nuts, and elegant dishes such as cavier and foie gras.
- Cabernet Sauvignon/Bordeaux: Rich flavorful red wine with smooth tannins and flavors of oak, cherry, pepper. Pairs well with red meats.
- Pinot Noir: Lighter red wine with subtle flavors of cherry, vanilla, caramel. Pairs well with earthy dishes with mushroom and vegetables.
- Syrah: full bodied dry red wine with flavors of blackberry, chocolate, spices. Pairs well with spicy dishes such as Indian, Chinese, Thai.
- Merlot: Soft red wine with sweeter fruit flavors of plum, blueberry, and chocolate. Pairs well with meat and cheese stews and sauces.
- Malbec: Deep red wine with rich flavors of black cherry, milk chocolate, leather. Pairs well with BBQ meats.
One last thing: Did you know that a professional wine taster, (sommelier) does not swallow the wine they are tasting, especially if they are trying several different wines? They spit the wine out into a bucket to prevent from getting too tipsy. If you are going to be tasting several wines and want to actually consume the wine, please make certain you will not be driving after. What are your favorite tips to pair wine with food?