A fine meal and a bottle of wine always makes for an enjoyable evening, but how can you be certain to pair the right wine for the meal?
Careers are built upon knowing matching wine with food and knowing which wines go great with particular flavours, but you don't need to be an experienced sommelier to pair food and wine properly.
With just a few simple tips (and trying out a few combinations), you'll soon become a wine pairing expert, able to elevate any meal from baked fish and Italian pasta dishes to barbecued chicken wings and everything in between.
1. Understanding Your Wine Flavours
First and foremost, the purpose of pairing food and wine is to bring out the flavours of the wine and make the most of it.
Taking a bite of your food, and then having a sip of a perfectly paired wine creates an experience that simply can't be rivalled.
Choosing the wrong wine won't ruin the taste of the food, but you'll definitely miss out on a heightened flavour profile and possibly even cause what you thought was a good wine to seem less than satisfactory.
2. Understanding How Food and Wine Flavours Work Together
The wine you choose should always be sweeter and tarter than your meal. Sugar and sweetness in food can make a wine lose its fruit and taste more bitter or acidic. Do not pair bitter foods with high tannin or bitter wines.
Typically, red wines are higher in tannins than white wines are because they are fermented using more contact of the grape. Ageing the wine in an oak barrel can also increase the tannins.
A high tannin wine tends to be more bitter, and combining two bitter flavours will create an especially bitter meal overall.
3. Red or White?
Many people believe that red wine must always be paired with red meat and white wine with chicken or fish. But this isn't always the case.
The other ingredients in a dish can often be a factor for which type of wine will go best. For example, a red Pinot Noir can pair nicely with dishes that contain earthy ingredients like mushrooms.
Rich white wines can hold up to the bold taste of a T-Bone steak or roasted vegetables. Reds that aren't too acidic are great with shellfish, making it taste bright and refreshing.
A Rosé pairs well with rich dishes or those with heavy cheeses or cheese sauces. And then there is champagne, which can be especially refreshing with salty foods, finishing them with a touch of sweetness.
4. Pair Old-World Wines With Strong, Earthy Flavours
Old-world wines such as Bordeaux and Sauvignon Blanc typically have strong, earthy flavour profiles.
They are flavourful enough to stand on their own, but you can improve their flavour even more by combining them with a meal containing other earthy flavours.
Couple heavy red wines with meals made with mushrooms, leeks, lamb and hearty beef stews, and match strong whites with dishes containing powerful tangy or citrusy flavours. Such dishes serve to make an earthy wine taste even bolder as the rich, fruit flavours are enhanced.
5. Pairing Wines With Spicy Foods
Many wines are aged in oak barrels because of the subtle flavours imparted by the oak.
However, these flavours typically do not lend themselves well to spicy foods. Instead, choose a fruity wine or one that is crisp and light to complement a spicy meal.
Avoid wines high in tannins to ensure a good balance between the heat of the dish and the sweetness of the wine. A higher alcohol content in the wine, when paired with chilli, will also increase the burning heat sensation, this should also be considered depending on whether you enjoy the heat or not.