The Mountain Times

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Food and wine pairing; less and art than an experience to refine

Wine and food go hand in hand, or should we say mouth to stomach? The quintessential question always asked: how do you pair wine with food? Historically this was never an issue. Back in the days when wine was local, local food was consumed with local wine.

And it usually seemed to be a match except when light food was paired with heavy wine, or the other way around. But usually there is the option of white and red, to go with light and heavy foods. Maybe that's where the old wisdom comes from, "white with fish, red with meat." Even if that today doesn't quite hold true anymore. There are plenty of light reds to accompany fish and heavy whites to go with meat dishes. Just think of swordfish with olive tapenade, or breaded veal in lemon caper sauce, to reverse the old rule.

It's kind of like the old 'what came first, the chicken or the egg?' Were local foods adapting to local wines, or were certain foods preferred because they went better with the wine at hand?

At any rate, you're better off to follow the simplest rule: if eating traditional food, drink traditional wine- Spaghetti Bolognese with Chianti, German sausage with Riesling, Paella with Rioja.

Of course your own taste and preference trump rules, but do yourself a favor and try the classic pairings: Pheasant with Pinot Noir, Sauternes with Foie Gras, grass-fed well-done beef with Malbec, strip sirloin with Cabernet Sauvignon, scallops with chardonnay, and so on.

Next, don't underestimate the sauces and spices when pairing your food and wine. Earthy mushrooms go with earthy wines, delicate foods require delicate wines, charcoal grill charred meat loves heavy tannins, while acidic tomato based dishes are better off with the acidity driven styles of Italian wines.

But this is a free world! Opposition can make for interesting talk. Maybe a nicely acidic Sauvignon Blanc would be just great with that heavy cream sauce to cleanse your palate with between every bite. Maybe that creamy Chardonnay is just right to sooth your palate between those spiced up bites.

Some rules though should be heeded: Alcohol will magnify the heat of spicy food and also increases the density and texture of the wine. Typically high alcohol wines have more weight to them, so they're better off with heavier meals such as steak. However salt and spicy heat with also accentuate the alcohol, creating a 'hotness' sensation in the mouth.

Acidity is perceived by a mouth-watering response of the salivary glands to stimulate appetite. In dishes that are fatty, oily, rich or salty the acidity of the wine will contrast or 'cut' the heaviness and refresh the palate.

If the wine is less tart than the food, it will taste thin and weak.

Sweetness is also a major factor: If the food is sweeter than the wine, the wine will taste sour. Sweetness in the wine however can balance the tartness in the food.

When paired with dishes that are high in proteins and fats (such as red meat and hard cheeses), the tannins will bind to the proteins and come across as softer. With little protein in the food, such as some vegetarian dishes, the tannins will react with the proteins on the tongue and sides of the mouth accentuating the astringency and having a drying effect on the palate.

Try it, experiment with flavors and enjoy the experience of food and wine pairing.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, Food Pairings