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Matching Food and Wine

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The pleasure of eating and drinking operate on so many levels, there are certain points to remember when matching food and wine.  Here are some of the characteristics you need to consider, plus a summary of the main grape varieties and their food matches.

The principle for food and wine matching is to enhance the overall experience of a dish or meal by pairing it with a wine that will compliment it. To achieve the best match it is necessary to analyse the basic components in both the wine and the food, the principal is to try to balance them so that neither the food nor the wine overpowers the other.

The main elements to consider are:

-  Weight
-  Flavor intensity and characteristic
-  Acidity
-  Salt
-  Tannin
-  Sweetness

Weight - try to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine.  Rich, heavyweight foods need full bodied wines. Lightweight food like poultry and fish are complimented by more delicate wines.

Flavor intensity and character- flavor intensity, although similar to weight, is not the same thing.  A bowl of boiled pasta without a sauce is heavy in weight but light in flavor.

Quite often it is not the dish’s main ingredient that is the dominant flavor.  In a creamy chicken curry the sauce will be heavier and fuller flavoured than the chicken.  In this instance you need to match the wine to the sauce.

The flavor characteristics of some foods and wines are very similar and consequently they make good combinations:

- Fruit-based desserts can be matched with ‘grapey’ flavor of the Muscat variety
- Spicy dishes can be matched with Gewürztraminer, a variety often described as spicy.
- Cream or butter sauces go well with wines that have been fermented in new oak barrels.  Oak imparts vanilla-scented, buttery, creamy flavors of the wine.
- Delicately flavoured wines like Italian whites compliment shellfish and seafood.

Acidity – food and wine can both have acidity.  Tomatoes, citrus and green apples are high-acid foods.  Certain grape varieties naturally produce high-acid wines.  Wines from cool climates have more acidity than those from hot climates.

When vinegar or lemon juice is used as a condiment you will need to find a high-acid wine to compliment it.  A classic example is champagne served with smoked salmon and a squeeze of lemon.

High-acid wines are also used to cleanse the palate when eating oily food.  Even without the lemon, smoked salmon is made more palatable when the champagne cuts through the natural oiliness of the fish.

In Italy where many dishes are made with lots of olive oil you will find the majority of their red wines have noticeable acidity and so compliment the regional dishes perfectly.  The wines’ acidity matches the acid characteristic also found in the tomatoes whilst cutting through the olive oil

Salt- salt is not a flavor you will find in wine.  Salty foods are enhanced and balanced by a hint of sweetness.  Sauternes, a very sweet dessert wine is a famous match with salty, Roquefort cheese.  Salt works with acidity, an example of this would be salty nibbles served with champagne before a meal.  For a dry wine to work with salty food it should have low tannins and noticeable acidity.  Beaujolais is a perfect example.

Tannin- tannins are usually detected in red wines because tannin comes from the grape skins and stalks and they are not used in white wine-making.  Wines made from different grape varieties vary enormously in tannin content, some varieties being naturally low in tannins and others high.  Cabernet sauvignon have very thick skins and so makes very deeply colored, high tannin wines.  Wine tannins are attracted to fatty proteins.  Lamb is a good example of a food with high-fatty protein content.

Sweetness- sweet foods make dry wines seem over- acidic and tart.  The general rule is to serve a wine at least as sweet as or sweeter than the food being served.  Many sweet wines have a good level of acidity, sauternes are good examples.  This makes them a good match for rich foods like pate.  The acidity will cut through the fat in the pate and the wine sweetness will compliment the richness of this food.

RED GRAPES

Barbera wines made to be drunk young can be matched well with sausages, salami, ham and tomato sauces.  Complex older wines need to be matched with rich foods such as beef casseroles and game dishes.

Cabernet Franc is best drunk with plain rather than sauced meat dishes. Matches well with grilled or baked salmon or trout.  Also goes well with Indian food.

Cabernet Sauvignon the ideal food wine.  Cabernet sauvignon seems to have an affinity for lamb, but it partners all plain roast or grilled meats and game well and would be an excellent choice for many sauced meat dishes such as steak and kidney pie or rabbit stew and any substantial dishes made with mushrooms.

Dolcetto produces fruity purple wines that go beautifully with hearty local Italian meat dishes such as calves’ liver and onions or casseroled game with polenta.

Gamay the grape of red Beaujolais makes wine you can drink whenever, wherever, however and with whatever you want.  It goes particularly well with pates and sausages because its acidity provides a satisfying foil to their richness.  It would be a good choice for many vegetarian dishes.

Grenache generally blended with other grapes.  Grenache nonetheless dominates, with its high alcoholic strength and rich, spicy flavors.  These are wines readily matched with food such as casseroles, charcuterie and grills.

Merlot makes soft, rounded fruity wines that are some of the easiest red wines to enjoy without food.  Also makes an excellent match with many kinds of foods, such as spicy game dishes, herby terrines and pates, pheasant, pigeon, duck or goose all blend well with Merlot.

Nebbiolo fruity, fragrant, early drinking styles of Nebbiolo wine are best with local salami, pates and light meat dishes.  The best Barolos and Barbaresco need substantial food, such as rich hare or beef casseroles and even a large piece of beef marinated then braised slowly in Barolo would be perfect.

Shiraz/Syrah this grape always makes powerful, rich, full bodied wines that are superb with full flavored food.  The classic barbecue wine, Syrah also goes with roast game, hearty casseroles and charcuterie.  It can be good with tangy cheeses such as Cheshire.

Tempranillo Spain’s best native red grape makes aromatic wines for drinking young, and matures well to a rich oak flavor.  Tempranillo is good with game, local cured hams and sausages, casseroles and meat grilled with herbs; it is particularly good with lamb.  It can partner some Indian dishes and goes well with strong soft cheeses such as ripe brie.

Zinfandel California’s much planted, most versatile grape is used for a variety of wine styles from bland, slightly sweet pinks to rich, elegant, fruity reds.  The good red Zinfandels themselves may vary greatly in style.  If they aren’t too oaky they are good with barbecued meats, venison and roast chicken.  The hefty old style wines are a great match with spicy cuisine, or with game casseroles.  The pale blush style of Zinfandel goes well with tomato sauces.

WHITE GRAPES

Chardonnay is one of the best choices for simple fish dishes.  Most chardonnays are superb with roast chicken or other white meat.

Gewurztraminer spicy and perfumed, Gewurztraminer has the weight and flavor to go with such hard to match dishes such as smoked fish.  It is also a good choice for Chinese or indeed any oriental food.

 

Muscat usually paired well with most desserts.  Moscato d’Asti, delicious by itself, goes well with rich Christmas pudding or mince pies.

Sauvignon Blanc accompanies quite rich fish dishes as well as being an obvious choice for seafood.  The characteristic acid intensity makes a brilliant match with dishes made with tomato.

Semillon is excellent with fish and shellfish.  Sweet Semillons can partner many puddings especially rich, creamy ones.  Semillon also goes well with many cheeses, sauternes and Roquefort is a classic combination.

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