Saturday, November 17, 2012

Matching food to wine

There are different schools of thought to matching food to wine.  A common approach is to rely on regions (serve Italian wine with Italian food); or mirroring (white wine with fish or red wine with red meat).  The idea behind progressive wine pairing is to match based on taste profiles.  

There are only 5 tastes:  sour, sweet, bitter, salty, umami.

Match the wine to the TASTE, not to the flavour, of the food.Take a sip of wine.  Take a bite out of an apple.  The wine does not change the taste of the fruit.  Now... take a sip of wine after tasting the apple.  The apple totally changes the taste of the wine (and not for the better).

Rob and I went to a tasting led by chef Jerry Comfort at the Food and Wine Show tonight and experienced how food changes how wine tastes.

Take a sip of wine.  Lick a lemon.  The wine does not change the taste of the fruit.  Now... take a sip of wine after licking the lemon.  Totally different taste (and likely for the better).

- Sweet food is not wine friendly.
- Sour food softens wine.

Have a slice of red meat, take a bite.... but don't salt the meat.  Sip a 'big' red.  Meh. Then salt the red meat.  Then squeeze a bit of lemon on it. Then taste the big red.  Wow. Huge difference.  It is not that red meat goes with a big red so much as it goes with salt and sour.

Lemon juice takes the edge off pepper.
A slice of apple with a taste of salt and squeeze of lemon is delicious

We really do all have different tastes.   Up to 20% of the population actually has little or no ability to taste bitterness.  The taste buds are different on people's tongues, it is not just subjective but a physiological response that contributes to preference.   

The biochemistry of food is like a magic trick to me.  It's incredible to observe these things, the cause and effect.  I am grasping the what but the why and the how are quite mystifying.

This approach places off-dry or light whites in the same category as low tannin reds... equally suitable to pair with sweet, spicy, and umami tastes.  Often recommended is Gewurtraminer as a match for something spicy like Szechuan or Indian, but using this to guide selection you could just as well enjoy White Zinfandel, Chenin Blanc,  Beaujolais Nouveau or Pinot Noir. 

Salt lowers our perception of bitterness and acidity, which is why balanced foods with salt seasoning pair well with most wines.

All wine categories pair well with balanced food.

There's that salt and sour combo.  If the seasoning of the food is balanced, it won't alter the taste of the wine.  

However, if the food is acid/bitter/umami (protein based), pair it with a crisp and fruity wine.  Asparagus, sushi, smoked fish, and astringent salad greens all go well with crisp light wines (pinot grigio, unoaked chardonnay, pinot noir, chianti, merlot).

For desserts, make sure to serve a wine that is sweeter than the offering, that way the wine's acidity won't be pronounced.

Tasting is believing!  Experiencing the affects on the palate speaks loudly.

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