Matching Wine with Food
One common food and wine matching generalization is that white meat goes with white wine and red meat goes with red wine. However this is rather simplistic and can cause you to exclude some exquisite wine matches – such as steak tartare (raw beef with egg and capers) with a glass of dry white wine.
Below are some principles that you can follow:
Match the wine with the signature dish.
The first step is as each round of dishes come out, identify the signature dish and then base all your wine choices around that one dish rather than all the other dishes on the table.
Match the weight of the dish with the weight of the wine.
The next step is to assess the ‘weight’ or ‘body’ of the dish. The easiest way to understand weight is to consider the various types of milk. Skim milk would be light in weight, regular milk would be medium in weight and cream would be full bodied.
In wine, differences in weight are due to the level of alcohol and extract due to differences in climate and wine making style. Ripe fruit from a warm climate has more sugar in the grapes, meaning a higher alcohol wine and gives the wine more weight. Extract is the amount of flavor, colour and tannins that the wine maker has extracted out of the grapes during the wine making process. So a Shiraz that comes from a warm climate, that is allowed to ripen on the vines before harvest and is then ‘worked’ in the winery would tend to have more weight than a Shiraz from a cool climate, that is picked early and then made with minimum interference in the winery.
Weight in wine also comes from the intensity of flavours, being delicate, medium or strong. Whilst many white wines are delicate in flavor, such as a cooler climate Riesling, they can also have strong flavours as well such as an oaky Chardonnay. An example of a delicate flavoured red wine would be a Yarra Valley Pinot whereas a strong flavoured red would be a Barossa Shiraz.
Therefore if the signature dish were delicate and light, then you would choose a light weight wine. In contrast, if the signature dish was a rich and full of flavours, then you would choose a full bodied wine to match it with.
Complement the tastes and aromas.
After identifying the signature dish and then working out it’s weight, the next step is to identify the main tastes and aromas in the dish and then choose a wine that has similar characters. By tastes we are describing the five tastes in your mouth – sweet, sour, salty, bitter and umani (or savoury like a soy sauce). So if the dish has high acidity, then you would choose a wine with high acidity. If the dish were sweet, then you would choose a sweet wine.
You can also match the aromas in the food with the aromas in the wine. So if the dish had pepper as the prominent flavours, then you would choose a peppery cool climate, peppery Shiraz to match with it. Or if you had a dish with Chinese five spice then you could match it to the cedar wood spice of a Pinot Noir.
Contrast the tastes and aromas.
Rather than complement the tastes and aromas, you can also choose to contrast them with your wine choice. In cooking an example would be a dish that has both sweet and sour characters, such as Cantonese Sweet and Sour Pork. Using this theory you would match a spicy dish with a sweet wine as the sweetness from the wine decreases the heat from the chili.
There are also some unique interactions that are important to bear in mind. The first is that wine tastes different when enjoyed alone in comparison to when enjoyed with food due to the chemical interactions between the food and wine in your mouth. One example of this is that the tannins in wine bind with the proteins in meat making the tannins smoother and thus the wine easier to drink. Another special interaction is that the acid in wine can cut through oil or fattiness in food creating the perfect palate cleanser for you to enjoy the next mouthful of food. Finally always avoid a tannic wine when enjoying spicy food as the tannins will make the spice appear stronger.