The Mountain Times

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Food-friendly wines: The basics

So many different people and so many different wines! In all the years involved with wine, one thing became clear: very rarely is there an absolute perfect match in the many ways combining wine, food and people to create a memorable meal.  The best solution seems to be: just suit your own taste! That is if you know what you like.

If you have a favorite wine, combine it with your favorite food and company, and if your tastes are fairly similar, enjoy your dinner! Wine is meant to be drunk with friends, so communicate with them before choosing wine. Be open to try something new if there are differences in preference. Instead of arguing between Cabernet and Chardonnay, try a Pinot Noir or a blend form Bordeaux, or be adventurous, maybe a dry Grenache Rose.

Instead of looking at the types of grapes and their characteristics, try an approach by country and region of the world. Traditionally in the old wine growing regions of Europe wines are always blended from various grapes to create unique and consistent flavors typical for that particular region. It is only in the 'new worlds' of wine growing that single varietal wines such as Cabernet, Merlot or Chardonnay became the norm. But it is not only the grape type that determines the flavor of the wine, a lot has to do with the types of soil the vines grow in, the climate that affects the growth (more sun brings out more sugar in the grape and thus creates more alcohol, cooler climates preserve more of the acidity inherent in grapes) and of course how the winemaker chooses to make the wine.

Some wines are more food-friendly than others and the many reasons for that fill many books; here is a look at the basics. Most important are the acidity and the sweetness of the wine, the balance between the two is critical for the flavor of the wine, and the alcohol adds another dimension. Some of the more 'balanced' wines are made from Savignon Blanc, Riesling or Chenin Blanc for whites, and Pinot Noir, Cabernet Franc or Barbera for reds.

The acidity of the wine (think of biting into an apple) will enhance most food flavors and lesson the feel of fat in your mouth, the sweetness (think of ripe peaches or berries) will complement the sweetness of the food and oppose its saltiness (a dry wine tastes sour with sweet foods), the alcohol makes the wine taste stronger, amplifies most food flavors and adds a certain heat or burning sensation (look for less alcohol in the wine with spicy-hot food).

When pairing wine with food, utilize old traditions and match foods and wines regionally, as cuisines along with the style of wines have evolved over centuries. Even in this modern age where boundaries seem to fade and blur, characteristics of ethnic cooking still match well with their wines. For example Italian red sauces in all their varieties, high in acids from the tomatoes need the acid Italian wines bring to the table. French cuisine-style rich and buttery sauces are better off with the earthy, complex wines from France. German pork, sausage and sauerkraut dishes are perfect matches with Rieslings from Germany; the rich, oily and salty foods from Spain go best with Spanish wines; and there is no better match for a big juicy American steak than a big juicy wine from California or Argentina.

Tagged: Wine, Wine Experiments