Sunday, June 28, 2009
The Oldest of Friends - On food and wine pairing
Food and Wine
If you have never had your food matched up with its perfect wine partner, you are in for a treat. There is simply nothing like it. Any wine can blow your mind if you taste it with its complementary edibles and vice versa. The Italians have it right; it’s hard to find a bottle of wine in Italy that wasn’t made to enhance the local food delicacies. Trust in the wisdom of this legendary food nation and start thinking about the possibilities.
There are no absolutes, but here are a few rules of thumb. The body of the wine should match the body of the dish. What is ‘body’? Imagine skim milk versus homogenized, it’s all about mouth-feel. A salad is light in body whereas a plate of spaghetti Bolognese is heavy. Why do you match body with body? So that neither the wine nor the dish clobbers each other. A fruity, bold Aussie Shiraz will murder a dainty salad. Spaghetti Bolognese is mastered by the right, powerful Chianti. With that in mind, if a country has a long tradition of wine making, buy their wines if you are making their food. Chat with your local wine store to find out the classic pairings and see if they turn your crank.
In the end, taste is personal. If you adore Malbec and your favourite food is ice cream, you may love them together, even though wine pairing theory may shake its head at you in confusion. The next step is flavour pairing; this is where it gets a bit trickier. You can choose to compare or contrast wine and food notes. Personally, a refreshing Cava (sparkling Spanish wine) offsets the sweetness of a fruit tart really well. A buttery Chardonnay may cozy up nicely to caramelized scallops as caramel and butter are close relatives. Add a dash of tart salsa to the scallops and you have a contrasting palette exciter to boot.
My advice is to keep it simple to start. Pick a flavour characteristic and a body level and make a simple dish to complement, then take some time out to really taste both the wine and the food.
A few more key factors in making that perfect symbiosis happen…
1. Proteins and tannins (the tea-like, drying effect red wines can have on your mouth) are friends. A very tannic wine (like a lot of Italian wines) is made to be served with fatty meat. The fat tones down the tannins and the tannins bite through the fat.
2. Alcohol and spicy food are not friends. It’s like the couple that look hot, but are awful to each other; their arguments would set anyone’s mouth on fire. Spice likes low alcohol wines like a tart, minerally Riesling!
3. The tartness of your wine should match the lemon in your dish, otherwise, one will be left feeling dull (and no one likes dull). Once you are done matching acidity levels, add some salt to your dish for contrast.
4. Desserts are best matched in sweetness; otherwise you lose your wine as the sweet dessert overpowers it. Port, sherry, ice wine, fortified wines all make for perfect possibilities. However, I’ve also found that the contrast of an intense, dry beverage like a good whiskey is a great balance to a sweet dessert as well.
To reiterate, there are no absolutes and always there are exceptions which is what makes it fun. Choose which part of your meal you want to shine; if you have a really expensive bottle of old Bordeaux that you want to open, simplify your food to make it the star attraction. If you manage to choose well in your quest for the perfect pair, you may find you always have too many guests for dinner.
If you are interested in learning more about British Columbian wine and food, take a gander at our blog… www.swallowtailtours.blogspot.com