Pairing wine with foods has been described by many to be the most nerve racking experience they’ve come across. And for beginners in this field, it is a task not very different from the ones that were set in front of Hercules – highly impossible. Some have no clue where to begin while others find it such a daunting prospect that they declare themselves happy with their cans of Budweiser.
In all probability, what turns them off is the apparently long list of do’s and don’ts that look like they can’t be memorized in this lifetime. They believe that transgression of any of these regulations brings a frown on the face of the sommelier causing him to walk away with a look of disgust, shaking his head at the lot that traipses brazenly into restaurants in these times.
But, honestly speaking, pairing wines with foods needn’t necessarily turn into an episode of Fear Factor. The first rule of wine pairing is that there are absolutely no rules at all. It’s all a matter of personal preference. There might be famous matches and popular choices, but at the end of the day, you are the one eating and drinking and it has to appeal to your palate. Having said that, there are certain tips you can remember to help you get started.
The first step is the interaction of flavors. While your tongue can detect only four very distinct flavors – bitter, salty, sweet and sour – your nose can detect more than 200 different aromas. Between both, you can experience a varied combination of flavor characteristics. Therefore, when you order food, it can complement or contrast the flavor of the wine. For instance, Sweet Riesling can contrast the saltiness of a bag of chips or it can mellow the overriding taste of cheesecake.
The next thing to consider is whether you are having a “light” or “heavy” dish. To make it clearer, steak and potatoes would be a heavy dish as compared to vegetable stir-fry with chicken, which would be considered a light fare. Fuller-bodied reds complement heartier foods while whites pair well with lighter meals. The easiest way to remember is “red wines with red meats” and “white wines with white meats.”
Among the other factors you should consider is the acidity of the food you are ordering. Order wines with an acidic undertone, such as Pinot Grigio when ordering acidic foods like a Greek salad or anything with a lemon-based sauce. If you are ordering something that leans towards the sweeter side, for instance, a dish like chicken apple salad, pair it with a wine that is drier, like an off-dry Riesling.
However, like I said before, there are generalizations – a milestone to begin your journey of exploration, based on your own preferences. Don’t get so caught up in the rules that you fail to enjoy the experience.
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