Even if you’re not a novice to wines, it can be daunting to try and determine the best wine(s) to pair with your meal. The good news is that it’s not as complicated as it first seems. With a few basic guidelines, we can help you make successful choices.
First – remember to keep things simple. Choose a wine that you already like; that way, if your pairing isn’t the great success you’d hoped for, you can still enjoy what you’re drinking. And for the same reason, choose a food you’re already familiar with and can appreciate on its own.
Next – think about the body of both the food and the wine. If one overwhelms the other, it just wont work out well. So just how do you determine the richness of your food and wine? For the food, the fattiness or fat content is the prime indicator. A lean fish dish is far lighter than grilled lamb, for example. The heartiness or delicateness of a sauce or dressing needs to be considered as well. For a wine, the color and variety should give you more than a hint as to what to expect. And, lower alcohol content wines tend to be lighter bodied. Wines higher in alcohol are generally full bodied and richer.
Last – pick a wine that goes well with the most dominant flavor in your dish. This could be the main ingredient, but might be the sauce, seasoning, or cooking method. A dark mushroom sauce, for example, needs a soft red to go with its earthiness, while a citrusy dressing calls for a crisp white. Don’t be afraid to look past the main ingredient to help you to select a wine!
Its also useful to understand a little more about the structure of the wine itself. Higher acidity and stronger tannins give the wine more body and firmness. Fruit and sugars give the wine a softer mouth feel. Lower alcohol gives a lighter bodied feel, while higher alcohol content gives the feeling of more body.
Red wines have tannins which provide texture to the wine, and give you that astringent, puckering sensation. Most white wines have no tannins, unless they’ve spent considerable time in oak barrels.
Both red and white wines, depending on the varietal, have many shared flavors and aromas, such as earthy, floral, spicy, or leathery. Berry, plum, cherry, and currant flavors are generally found only in reds, while peach, pear, apple, and citrus flavors are found in whites.
High levels of acidity in your food can alter the flavor of a high acid wine by making them feel softer. Conversely, sweeter ingredients can make your dry wine taste sour. Rich, fatty dishes minimize the effect of strong tannins in your wine, making it seem smoother, while salty foods can impart a harsher mouth feel to your red wine. Spicy dishes generally do better with a fruity or slightly sweet wine than with a wine high in tannins or alcohol. You can also create a match by including ingredients in your dish which echo the aromas and flavors of a particular wine. Aging a wine presents different characteristics as well. Wine becomes more complex, tannins soften, and new savory or earthy notes may develop. Make sure not to overpower an aged wine with an extremely rich or bold dish.
Most importantly – don’t be afraid to experiment! You never know what spectacular matches you might come up with, which can improve both your dish and your wine. Have fun!