Salt, fat, acid and heat are the four elements that can make or break a dish. But, what’s more interesting is that a wine paired with your meal can also have a huge impact in bringing out the flavours of your dish and highlighting these four elements.
So with all the different influences, how do professional chefs or sommeliers pair their dishes?
The 5 fundamental flavours in your dish to be kept in mind while pairing it with alcohol are :Bitter, Sweet, Acid, Salt and Fat.
Here’s what you should keep in mind while you are figuring out which wine to drink with your succulent steak for dinner or your sweet bitter tiramisu for dessert: once you know the flavours of your dish well, you will be able to figure out whether you want a wine to compliment it or just to balance the flavours.
1. Pair Wine to Personal Taste
First and foremost rule of wine pairing is to pair a wine which matches your personal taste. If you or your guests like white wine then always consider pairing your dishes with whites or vice versa. Never force a pairing.
2. High Acidity Wines with Fatty Foods
The term acidity in wines define the fresh, sour and tart attributes in the wine which make your mouth salivate. This helps in stimulating the appetite, which is why champagne is such a great aperitif. The acids present in wine are: - Malic which gives a hint of green apples,
- Lactic which provides a milky flavour and texture and;
- Tartaric which gives bitterness to the wine.
A highly acidic wine is usually paired with a dish which is rich in fats, oil or salt as the acidity cuts through the heaviness of the dish and gives a refreshing change to the palate. An example of this would be A French Sauvignon Blanc paired with a traditional Mac and Cheese in a creamy béchamel sauce.
A highly acidic wine should be paired with dishes that are less acidic than the wine or the high tartness of the wine may cut through the dish and make it taste thin and weak. A classic pairing example of this is A Brut Champagne and Oysters.
Like Robert Hatt said, both of them contain complementary sets of umami and mineral flavours that act synergistically to enhance the taste and work together in harmony.
3. Sweeter Wines with Sweet, Salty or Spicy Foods
The sweetness in wines is determined by the residual sugar which is left in the wine after the fermentation process. When a sweet wine is served with a sweet dish, it should always be sweeter than the dish to elevate the flavours of the dish. An example of this would be A Sauternes with Pretzels.
A sweet wine when served with spicy food can help in alleviating the burning sensation which is caused by the peppers and spices. An example of this would be A Gewurztraminer with Pad Thai or Fried Rice. (In fact, the word Gewurzt in German actually means Spice, so they will be complimentary and to spicy dishes). However, sweet wines also help in accentuating the mild sweetness in some foods and can be easily contrasted with salty foods. The sweetness balances the salt in salty foods like cheese. A traditional pairing of this is the European custom pairing salty Stilton Cheese with a Sweet Port wine.
4. Tannic Wines with Fatty Foods
Tannins add a structure and a backbone to the wine. Tannins allow you to feel bitterness in the mouth while tasting a wine. They add a gritty texture and a chalky and astringent taste and react with the proteins in the dish or on the tongue. Which is why tannic wines are usually paired with dishes that are high in protein such as meats or hard cheeses. The tannins bind themselves with the proteins of the dish and tend to come across as softer. While, in a vegetarian dish where there is an absence of meat proteins, the tannins react with the protein on the tongue and sides of the mouth and accentuate the bitterness which can leave a dry effect on the palate. A classic example of this pairing is A Saint-Emilion with a Classic Steak or A Barolo with Gouda or Cheddar Cheese.
5. Match the Wine with the Flavours and Textures of the Dish
Always make sure that the wines that have similar or complementary flavours with the dish are paired together. Mildly flavoured wines are usually paired with mild-flavoured dishes so they do not overpower the flavours and textures of the dish. Similarly, heavy and flavourful wines are usually paired with flavourful and rich dishes. An example of this is A Chablis paired with Lobster in a Butter Sauce because both the wine and the dish are rich and creamy in texture. Another example would be A Pinot Gris paired with Fish in lemon butter sauce as both of them have citrus flavours which go well together.
6. Match the Wine with the Sauce
Stick to congruent and complementary techniques while pairing a wine with a sauce. Try matching a delicate sauce which is citrus with a wine that has citrus notes and compliments it such as Sauvignon Blanc. Try pairing a mushroom or creamy sauce with a wine that has creamy notes or has gone through malolactic fermentation like a Chardonnay. Red and spicy sauces can be paired with high tannin or high alcohol wines such as Shiraz. A classic example of this pairing is A Chateauneuf du Pape with chicken drumsticks in a sweet and spicy barbecue sauce.
7. Regional Wines with Regional Dishes
A very interesting and successful pairing is a wine from a particular region paired with a traditional dish from the same region. This usually tends to be a match made in heaven because the agriculture and the grapevines share the same terroir and this tends to naturally complement the flavours. A known example of this pairing is A medium-bodied Chianti paired with pappardelle with veal ragù or A Garnacha with Truita Amb Suc, a local speciality of Spain.
Now that you know the rules and secrets of wine and food pairing, you are set to design your own menu paired with your favourite wines. Also, always remember wine and food pairings are subjective and may differ to one’s own personal taste, so don't be too hard on your selection if it's not perfect for all of your guests. These are just the guidelines which will help you to serve the right wine with different dishes.