Have you ever opened the Wine & Spirit Education Trust (WSET) at page 11 where they write about wine with food pairings? Please don’t do it if you don’t want to get a massive headache followed by a little existential crisis questioning all your eating and drinking habits to this day. Those three pages literally cracked my skull in two when I was studying for the exam. I just couldn’t get my head around those conventional gold standards of pairing.
Of course it’s definitely great to have some set rules to be aware of and follow from time to time, however if you expect those rules to enlighten you next time you’re at a dinner, then forget about it and keep that brain capacity for something else. Besides, tasting and pairing natural wine goes beyond any written principle, but this is a newsletter for another time.
When consumed together, food and wine have an effect on each other. The purpose of knowing a little bit of the basics is to take advantage of these effects, so that they complement each other and bring your pairing experience to the next level (and they help you avoid unpleasant combinations too).
The number one thing to consider when pairing wine with food is your own taste. And your taste is built on your cultural database, which is made up of the many experiences you had growing up and places you’ve lived, your individual sensitivities and personal preferences.
This may take some time to consider after self-reflection. Think about what you like to drink when eating certain foods. Do you like coke with your burgers? Then perhaps you would also like a light but syrupy wine with dark fruit notes with it. Do you like sprite with your fish & chips? Pale ale with your curry? All this is translatable in wine, believe it or not.
Also, keep in mind that the success or failure of the matching is dependent on the interaction of food components (sugar, oil, fat, salt, etc.) and wine (sugar, alcohol, acid, tannin, etc.). Here below are some (conventional) pairing guidelines.
Following the congruence pairing principle, a wine and a food will share several compounds or flavours in order to enhance each other. The important tip is to ensure that the wine is not overwhelmed by the flavours of the food.
On the other hand, a contrasting pairing creates balance by contrasting tastes and flavours. And it’s based on food and wine combinations that share no compounds but instead complement each other. Just don’t try pineapple pizza with anything ever.
The wine should have the same flavour intensity as the food. For example, match big, flavourful foods with big, flavourful wines.
Sweet foods are to sweeter wines
Because a sweeter food can diminish the sweetness of the wine, and make dry wines seem over-acidic and tart, always pair a sweet food with a wine that has enough residual sugar to keep up with it.
Fat versus bitterness
Tannins in wine produce the acrid taste that makes your mouth dry. Consequently, their bitterness softens the fat of the food. Wine becomes more tender, tannin-softer, and less acidic when combined with fatty foods.
What grows together goes together
Believe me, I am Italian and for us territoriality is at the base of everything. I mean, a good Chianti and a Chianina steak? A good dish of truffle Tajarin and a glass of Barolo? Please call 911.
The Golden Rule
Just follow your gut, be open-minded and experiment. We are all so over the “white wine with fish and red wine with meat” thing.
I want to end this newsletter with Marissa Ross’s note, who wrote on a post three years ago ‘DRINK WINE NUDE. OR NOT. IT’S A FUCKING BEVERAGE. ENJOY IT.’ And I just couldn’t agree more. Most times we overthink drinking and pairing so much. Please go out there and enjoy a good bottle of wine!
Wait, can I use the F word?