Wine & Food Pairing 101

With the holidays approaching, it’s safe to say that the food will be aplenty and the spirits will flow fruitfully, especially the wine.

The sophisticated beverage comes in many shades, flavors and blends, and it has an entire dictionary of terminology that only a wine connoisseur could understand. However, you don’t have to be an aficionado to like the stuff or enjoy it with a good meal.

When it comes to combining food and wine there are six basic rules to achieve a good pairing, according to John Szabo, author of Pairing Food & Wine for Dummies.

Szabo says that the most basic element for pairing wine with food is to “match weight with weight.” In layman’s terms, this means to balance the “weight” of your main dish with the weight, or body, of the wine. For instance you should pair a light-bodied wine with a light and delicate dish, such as a Pinot Grigio with white fish. The same idea goes for a more robust or heavy wine, such as a Cabernet Sauvignon with red meat or a heavy stew. The general idea behind Szabo’s concept is to not overwhelm light and airy dishes with a heavy wine and vice versa.

The next rule of thumb for pairing food and wine harmoniously is to match the acidity of the wine with the acidity of the dish, or as Szabo puts it, “serve high acid wines with high acid foods.” Acidity in wine affects the dining experience in many ways. It can refresh the palate if you are serving a dish with a rich cream or butter sauce, it can lighten the flavor of oily fish and shellfish and it can mirror tart ingredients such as vinaigrettes and tomato-based dishes. Sauvignon Blanc is considered a high acidic wine.

The third guideline, according to Szabo, is to “avoid tannic wines with fatty/oily fish.” Tannic refers to a high content of tannins (the textural elements that deem a wine dry) that are present in a particular wine. He says, “Avoid a big, chewy Cabernet Sauvignon or Malbec with mackerel, black cod, salmon or any other fish rich in Omega-3 fatty acids.” Tannic wines pair well with various cooking methods such as grilling and blackening because this adds bitterness to the dish which pairs well with the tannin found in the wine.

The fourth element to successfully pairing wine with food is to “soften tannic wines with salty, fatty, protein-rich foods,” according to Szabo. Tannins react with proteins, so pairing a dish high in protein and fat, such as marbled beef, allows the tannins to bind to the protein and soften the bitterness of the wine.

Also, it is important to serve salty foods with highly acidic wines, says Szabo. “For example, serve Gamay (such as Beaujolais) or Barbera from Northern Italy with cured meats, or Italian Pinot Grigio with anything containing soy sauce,” Szabo says. While salt clashes with tannin, it does, however, pair extraordinarily well with acidity.

The final guideline to making a heavenly food and wine duo is to “serve off-dry or sweet wines with slightly sweet or sweet foods.” This means the wine should always be of equal or greater sweetness than what is on the plate.

These guidelines are basic and can help you pick which delectable drink you purchase when sharing a meal with your loved ones over the holidays, but they are certainly not set in stone. Wine is something to be enjoyed and shared, and that is really what the holidays are all about. Cheers.

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