Food and Wine Pairing 101
Oysters and Chenin Blanc, barbeque and Zinfandel, steak and Cabernet Sauvignon; everyone knows that these are tried and true pairings, but what is it exactly that makes these classic combinations meant to be? To find the perfect food and wine match, it is important to look at the basic components of both and try to balance them so that neither overpowers the other.
The first goal is to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine. For example, lightweight foods like poultry and fish are complemented by more delicate white wines, such as Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. Richer, heavier foods, like red meat stews and casseroles need full-bodied red wines like Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon. It is important to take the weight into consideration, as it might be better to pair a heavier fish, like salmon, with a lighter style of red wine, such as Pinot Noir or a medium-bodied Zinfandel like Heritage Vines Zinfandel, as opposed to a bright, high-acid white.
We then look to the intensity of flavor in the wine and the dish. While it echoes a similar concept as looking at the weight of a food, it is important to consider the flavors on their own. For example, potatoes can be very heavy, but are light in flavor without a sauce or other components. In this case, it is not the main ingredient in the dish that should be used to make the match, but rather the dominant flavor found in the sauce or seasoning. An example would be a piece of Cajun-spiced chicken that can stand up to a peppery Zinfandel or Cabernet Franc.
The actual flavor characteristics that are shared between the wine and food are important as well. White wines that have been fermented or aged in new oak, such as our DCV Estate Block 10 Chardonnay, tend to pair better with dishes that feature cream or butter sauces, just as red wines with a spicy finish match well with an assertive flavor palate. Red wines that have notes of dark chocolate or espresso can pair well with chocolate-based desserts, just as varietals with notes of cloves, ginger or allspice, such as Beeson Ranch Zinfandel, can pair well with desserts with those nuances, like chewy gingersnaps.
Acidity can play two roles in food and wine pairing. One way is to match the levels of acidity to complement each other. When vinegar or lemon juice is used as a condiment, a wine with high acidity, such as our racy Fumé Blanc, will pair well. A less obvious example is with tomato-based dishes. Tomatoes are a high-acid food, which pair wonderfully with red wines with brighter flavors and naturally higher levels of acidity. A bright and fruit-forward Zinfandel or Cabernet Sauvignon will play off of the tomatoes and enhance the flavors. On the other side of the cork, a wine with bright acidity can help cut through fatty foods in the same way that a lemon cuts through an oily or rich food. In the case of a cheese pairing, the natural acidity of Sauvignon Blanc is able to cut through the richness of a creamy goat cheese and cleanse the palate. The grassy and mineral notes in a fresh chèvre play off the same nuances in the wine, while showcasing the citrusy characteristics of Sauvignon Blanc.
Just as opposites attract, so do salty and sweet! Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness, just like prosciutto and melon, or chocolates with sea salt. The same concept can be applied to wine as well. A salty, Roquefort cheese is delicious with a Sauternes or late harvest dessert wine. If sweet wine isn’t your thing, look to match the level of saltiness with the acidity of the wine. A classic pairing is a salty oyster with Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc. The naturally high acid in the wine brings out the brininess of the oyster and cleanses the palate for the next bite.
And last, but certainly not least, tannins play a critical role in food pairing. The more textured the food, like a fatty piece of duck or a chewy piece of steak, the more tannins are needed in the wine. Wine tannins are attracted to fat proteins, which is why your gums pucker when a dry, tannic wine meets the protein-filled saliva in your mouth. When enjoying a high-fat protein, the tannin molecules from the wine attach themselves to the protein molecules and take them away, leaving your mouth refreshed, cleansed and ready for the next mouthful. Cabernet Sauvignon is the traditional wine to pair with rich, luscious dishes, but a Malbec or Meritage blend would be ideal as well.
Our final piece of advice when considering what wine and food combination to enjoy, is to pair it with laughter, conversation and a smile. Everything tastes better when you share it with someone!