Matching food and wine.
It seems complicated but it should be enjoyable.
There are as many wine styles, textures and flavours as there are veggie combinations. The fun is trying the different pairings! We all taste wine and experience flavours differently with varying preferences or sensitivities to levels of sweetness, acidity or bitterness. For example, one person’s delight is a long milky coffee and another’s a shot of intense espresso. As a general rule, most people prefer wine to taste more fruity, not too high in acidity and low in bitterness and astringency.
Food impacts wine taste more than the other way round. Here are some basics about how food and wine interact.
'...your taste buds adapt to what you are eating or drinking'
Where to start?
The main taste components in food are salt, acidity, sweetness, bitterness and umami (the savoury flavour often associated with meat and fish). The first two in food tend to make wines taste sweeter or ‘softer’, less acidic and fruitier while sweetness and umami in your dishes tend to make wines taste more astringent and bitter, acidic and less fruity.
Your taste buds adapt to whatever you are eating or drinking which affects the perception of sugar, salt or acidity in the next thing you taste and sometimes dramatically. For example, when you brush your teeth, drink fruit juice or have a coffee before tasting wine it completely alters your palate (which is why wine critics don’t!).
So what do we need to keep in mind about these main flavour elements in foods and how they might affect our wine choices?
Salt in food makes the wine feel fuller, with more body. It decreases the sense of bitterness and acidity. Salt can be a real friend in food and wine pairing as it can soften some of the harsher elements in a wine.
Acidity in your food increases the sensation of sweetness and fruitiness in a wine. To test this out, take a sip of a white wine and note the acidity level in your mouth. Then suck on a lemon wedge and taste the wine again, you’ll see the wine tastes ‘flabbier’ missing the crispness it had before.
For a dish with a lot of lemon or vinaigrette choose a wine with enough acidity to match it, or the wine won’t show well. Equally, if you have a really acidic wine, some acidity in the food can bring it back into balance – a perfect match. Acidic raw tomatoes can make a wine taste sweeter but also taste over tannic on the tongue. Cook them down into a pasta sauce with thyme and rosemary. You lose the acidity and the sauce is delicious with a big red.
Sweet foods increase the perception of bitterness, acidity and the burning effect of alcohol in wine. Sweetness can make a dry wine lose its fruitiness and seem more acidic. The advice to drink a sweet wine with dessert follows the good general rule to choose a wine with at least as much sugar as the food. But don't fall into the trap that sweet wines ONLY go with dessert. More on that later.
Umami is harder to identify and less well known. It is a savoury taste which often accompanies other tastes such as saltiness in MSG (Mono Sodium Glutamate). If served without salt, foods high in umami can be hard to pair – eggs, mushrooms, asparagus and those lovely soft ripe cheeses. Foods high in umami can make low tannin red wines seem bitter or unbalanced while a higher tannin wine will not go out of kilter with an umami rich food. Think a lovely mushroom risotto and a structured merlot.
Bitter foods can make the tannins in wines taste metallic. The assumption that vegetables and red wine don’t work together is mainly thanks to bitter cruciferous veg. But like many foods, it depends how you prepare them. Steamed and served with melted butter or cheese, they can be delicious with a lighter red.
A family of foods which need a special mention are spicy dishes:
Chilli is complex, no two people have the same sensitivity to the intensity of chilli. It increases the sensation of bitterness and alcohol burn of a wine while decreasing the body, richness and fruitiness. In the same way, the alcohol increases the burning effect of the chilli – which some people love and others hate. Tough one! But we often find that a rosé with some body works well with spicy food - there's a resurgence of Mateus Rosé in Indian restaurants and we have plenty of structured rosés here in Bordeaux.
Once you master the basics, there are a few other things to think about:
The occasion and who will be there. Is it a Sunday lunch for a special occasion with family or a summer barbecue for a young crowd?
What about the intensity or delicacy of the dishes? As a rule, match flavour intensity so that food doesn’t overpower the wine or vice versa. There are some exceptions such as pairing wine with a curry - you probably wouldn’t want a big powerful wine but maybe a refreshing fruity rosé.
What is the texture of the food – crispy, soft and saucy or highly textured such as a nut roast or slow cooked beef?
As we suggest food and wine pairings in these recipes, we try to consider the occasion, the delicacy of the wines and food and how they will feel together in your mouth. It is hard to give a specific wine brand because vintages can vary (especially for old world wines). We hope giving you practical suggestions based on the above guidelines, will help you love wine and veg even more!