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Which Wine with Which Food?

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The raison d’être of food and wine pairing is to enhance the gastronomic experience of a meal, be it a lunch on the beach or an exclusive dinner in a three star restaurant.

The most important factor when pairing wine and food is personal preference. Most people prefer a powerful red wine with steak and white wine with smoked salmon, but there is nothing wrong with drinking a powerful red Barolo with salmon if that is what you enjoy. Besides personal preference there are a number of guidelines to follow to find the best pairings and to avoid bad matches.

A few years ago, when asking a sommelier or another trade professional for recommendations in terms of food and wine, these would mostly be based on classic combinations considering factors such as the weight of the food and wine, acidity, sweetness, flavor intensity and fat content. Lately however, there is a different and more modern view focusing on four key components: Sweetness, umami (a savory taste and distinct from the other primary tastes), acid and salt to achieve the best parings.

As you're probably aware there is much to be said about this topic, but here's a short overview of the classic guidelines followed by an explanation of the more modern viewpoint.

Bruno Giacosa 3bottles

Classic food and wine pairing

Stay local

Many wines, especially in the old world, have been made to suit local cuisine. If in doubt about what to serve, a local wine can be a good place to start for local cuisine.

For example, much Italian food is based on tomato and garlic; both very high in acid and the majority of Italian wines are also high in acid and are therefore often a good match. Another example is goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (both made of Sauvignon Blanc) are perfect matches for goat cheese which is produced in this region.

Other examples are boeuf bourgignon and red Burgundy, oysters and Muscadet and truffles and Barolo.

Weight

One of the main considerations is weight; a light bodied wine is suitable for a light weight food. If for example, if one were to serve a full bodied creamy Chardonnay to accompany a light salad, the wine would be overpowering and the salad tasteless.

The goal of food and wine pairing is to have the wine and food co-exist and allow each to express its character without being dominated by the other. A better suggestion for a light salad would be a fresher and crisper wine such as a Pinot Grigio or a Sauvignon Blanc. On the other hand a heavy weight food, such as a mushroom risotto would overpower a light bodied wine and then the oaky creamy Chardonnay would be a good choice.

Flavour intensity

Flavour is another important aspect. A full flavoured wine will overpower a very mild dish and vice versa. The reason why a Barossa Shiraz (full in both flavour and body) is a great match for BBQ meat is that both wine and food are full flavoured and spicy.

A lighter red wine like Beaujoulais on the other hand would not be able to compete with the intense spiciness of the BBQ flavours. A classic rule that also would fit under this heading is white meat with white wine (or light red) and red meat with red wine.

Acidity

To pair acidic food with wine, the wine needs equal or higher acidity than found in the food to create balance. Gambas with a lime dressing for example would go well with crisp wines such as Chablis, Sauvignon Blancs, Chenin Blancs or Rieslings which are naturally high in acidity. A low acid wine would taste very neutral and flat due to the high acid of the lime dressing.

sauvignon blanc

Sweetness

How nice is it to eat a lemon tart for dessert together with the red wine left over from the main course? Both the dessert and the wine goes to waist in my opinion. Sweet food needs sweet wine, otherwise the wine will taste sour and the dessert will not show its full potential.

The wine should be at least as sweet if not sweeter than the dessert. Great combinations are for example, Chocolate desserts and red Port (or the French dessert wines from Banuls and Maury). Fruit desserts benefit from a fruiter white wine such a Muscats. Muscat de Beaume de Venise is a nice fresh suggestion.

Fat

Although I mentioned that weighty food should have full bodied wines, fat foods can be different. Sometimes it is better to have a counter balancing high acid wine to create the best match.

Smoked salmon for example, is heavy and fairly fatty and yet a perfect combination is Champagne or Chablis. The naturally high acid in these wines will cut through the fat and make the meal seem lighter and more refreshing.

Red Wine with Fish

Generally speaking is NOT recommended, and if you don´t know what you are doing or have not tried the combination before, I recommend choosing a white wine.

Red wines contain tannins, and these tannins, in combination with certain fish (rich in umami) create a metallic and bitter taste which can be quite unpleasant.

As always though, with wine there are of course exceptions; reds that do work well with meatier fish are low in tannins and fairly light on body such as Beaujolais or red Sancerre.

Hot spice

In my opinion this is the most tricky food to match with wine but sensitivity for chili heat varies greatly from one person to another so this guideline is very dependent on personal preference.

For me, the best matches are with off-dry to medium sweet white wines from Alsace (Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer). This makes a lovely match with the exotic spiciness and can even soften a hot dish. High acidity should be avoided as should tannins since this can make the heat even more intense and hard.

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Classic combinations + some of my favourites


• Sauternes + Blue Cheese

• Port and Stilton

• Sauvignon Blanc and Goat Cheese

• Asti and Strawberries

• Fois Gras and Sauternes (also try Vendenge Tardive from Alsace)

• Scallops and Vovray

• Sushi and red Burgundy(not classic but great match)

• Amarone and Parmesan Cheese with Honey

• Chocolate Desert with Banyls or Maury

You'd think the above would suffice when it comes to food and wine paring, and it does go a long way towards finding a good match. However, this article would be incomplete without mentioning an alternative trend in matching food and wines. 

The key person and the driving force behind this development is Tim Hannai, chef and Master of Wine. He has conducted extensive research on the topic over the past 20 years and has come to the conclusion that most standard guidelines, such as red meat with red wine or seafood with white wine, are only myths.

According to Tim, any wine with any food is fine as long as the seasoning is adapted accordingly, known as flavour balancing. Many chefs around the world are now adopting this way of thinking and wine education programs have changed their syllabus to incorporate this.

Simply put, there are two components in food that make the wine taste more bitter and less fruity and these are sweetness and umami. On the other hand, the components of salt and acid will render the wine more fruity, less acid and smoother.

To experience the first effect you can pair a sweet dessert with a dry wine and see how the wine changes and loses its fruit and roundness, becoming hard and bitter. Or try some asparagus or smoked salmon (both high in umami) with a dry tannic red wine and you will experience a similar effect.

In other words, umami and sugar in food diminishes the enjoyment of the wine. To enhance the effect of a wine, put lemon or salt on any type of food and see how the wine becomes more fruity and round. It is quite surprising to see how smoked salmon and asparagus are a terrible combination with dry red wine but when lemon and salt are added the combination is very good.

Moroccan salad and wine

However, although I agree with the concept of flavor balancing, I can´t help wondering if past traditions and habits haven´t already formed our taste preferences.

In tasting classes we have experimented with different dishes and wines and, despite the fact that a Margaux (red wine from Bordeaux) tastes fine with perch in a white wine sauce (as long as the acid and salt levels are correct), it is never a combination I would choose in a restaurant.

I am also persuaded that most people really prefer a crisp white wine when they eat fish and a fuller red wine with a steak, even if it is just a habit.

My guess is that the classic guidelines will stay for many years to come and flavor balancing will serve as an interesting complement and a useful exercise in tasting classes and more experimental restaurants with experienced chefs and sommeliers.

Regardless of guidelines, we also have to consider pairing wine with people. Afterall, wine is made for our enjoyment and whoever is drinking the wine is of course the ultimate judge of whether a match is good or bad. 

When I started my wine drinking career in my late teens I thought sweet Asti Spumante was a great match with pasta and ketchup! Another example came from a client of mine who had served charter guests with Petrus (a legendary super expensive Bordeaux wine) and hamburgers - an extravagant paring that I wouldn´t say no to!


Need advice?

At Riviera Wine we are happy to assist with any advice or recommendation to help you on board. We are the only company in the yachting industry with a Master of Wine at the helm so if you're in need of advice or a competitive quote you've come to the right place! Please contact us by email or telephone: +33 (0)493340643 or visit our website via the logo below.

 *Image Credits: Wikimedia commons Flickr





Stay local- Many wines, especially in the old world, have been made to suit local cuisine. If in doubt about what to serve, a local wine can be a good place to start for local cuisine. For example, much Italian food is based on tomato and garlic; both very high in acid and the majority of Italian wines are also high in acid and are therefore often a good match. Another example is goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (both made of Sauvignon Blanc) are perfect matches for goat cheese which is produced in this region. Other examples are boeuf bourgignon and red Burgundy, oysters and Muscadet and truffles and Barolo.
- See more at: http://www.onboardonline.com/directory-page/riviera-wine/articles/what-wine-with-what-food#sthash.ryE4Obvr.dpuf
The most important factor when pairing wine and food is personal preference. Most people prefer a powerful red wine with steak and white wine with smoked salmon, but there is nothing wrong with drinking a powerful red Barolo with salmon if that is what you enjoy. Besides personal preference there are a number of guidelines to follow to find the best pairings and to avoid some bad matches.

A few years ago, when asking a sommelier or another trade professional for recommendations in terms of food and wine these would mostly be based on classic combinations considering aspects such as weight of the food and wine, acidity, sweetness, flavor intensity and fat. Lately however, there is a slightly different and more modern view focusing on four key components, sweetness, umami (a savory taste and distinct from the other primary tastes), acid and salt to achieve the best parings. As you might understand there is much to be said about this topic but I will do my best to give a short overview. Initially the more classic guidelines will be explained followed by the more modern viewpoint.





Stay local- Many wines, especially in the old world, have been made to suit local cuisine. If in doubt about what to serve, a local wine can be a good place to start for local cuisine. For example, much Italian food is based on tomato and garlic; both very high in acid and the majority of Italian wines are also high in acid and are therefore often a good match. Another example is goat cheese and Sauvignon Blanc, Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé (both made of Sauvignon Blanc) are perfect matches for goat cheese which is produced in this region. Other examples are boeuf bourgignon and red Burgundy, oysters and Muscadet and truffles and Barolo.
- See more at: http://www.onboardonline.com/directory-page/riviera-wine/articles/what-wine-with-what-food#sthash.ryE4Obvr.dpuf
The “raison d’être” of food and wine pairing is to enhance the gastronomic experience of a meal, be it a lunch on the beach or an exclusive dinner in a three star restaurant. - See more at: http://www.onboardonline.com/directory-page/riviera-wine/articles/what-wine-with-what-food#sthash.ryE4Obvr.dpuf

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