Learning how to make Food and Wine Pairing an enjoyable success!
By Marcus Lai ~ The Local Nose
Wednesday, 1st December 2010
Pairing wines with foods have always been an uphill task for many, even for top sommeliers when new dishes are created on the menus of any top restaurants.

Likewise at our Local Nose HQ, a single dish has to be paired with many wines with the approval of not one but a few local tasters before coming to a mutual consent. However, when they do match…..Ahh, it's a real delight to see how they synergistically complement each others' own characteristics!

So what's the secret?

Let me share what Mr Jerry Comfort, Beringer's Senior Wine Educator (and a chef himself) has shared with us, in a very enlightening and mind opening session! It was great to learn as Jerry helped us understand the simple details that we often over look.

The common few types of food and wine pairing are the ‘Regional Pairing' – where wine is paired to a local dish. Eg: French food with French wines, Italian foods with Italian wines. No doubt these pillars of pairing set a good framework as tradition and culture have equally played a part in cuisine and wine production.  

For instance, Provencal/ Rhone wines often have a ‘spicy' character as are their cuisines often prepared with many local spices. The second style of pairing is often to match food to wine by ‘imitating' the flavours of a wine. Hence, a dish is prepared according to the flavours, structure style and complexity of a wine. 

However in reality, it is often ONE bottle with MANY dishes across the table! (And as Jerry joked, the one who gets the best pairing is often the one ordering the bottle!)

Next, wines can be classified into 5 simple categories:

1)      Off dry/ Sweet
2)      Dry, UNoaked (white)
3)      Dry, OAKED (white)
4)      Lightly tannic (red)
5)      Heavily tannic (red)

After classifying wines into their categories, here are some ground rules:

  • DO NOT pair to Flavour, but PAIR to TASTE
  • DO NOT pair to Varietal, but PAIR to STYLE
  • DO NOT pair to Protein, but PAIR to PREPARATION
Let me try to demystify things a little, when it comes to taste, there are 4 different tastes our palate can perceive – sweet, sour, salty, bitter (and the latest 5th Umami – savourish protein craving). However, there are countless types of flavours we can pick up. For example, sweet is a taste sensation but many flavours are sweet such as fruits, honey or candies.

Secondly, pairing to styles (as the 5 categories above) of a wine is important because a varietal may differ in styles such as a Chardonnay may be oaked or unoaked or even as Blanc de Blanc Champagne. Lastly, pairing to the preparation of a dish is important as the same chicken/ beef may be served in a thick creamy sauce, spicy salsa or a very sharp acidic marinade.

A hint, always taste the wines first! (Food changes the way a wine taste but seldom the other way) or as a good friend of mine will say, which do you pay more (locally) – a bottle of wine or a single dish?!

During the course of the session, we experienced how different taste sensations alter wine styles and how they complement each other by trying various foods with wine. Here I say, food not dishes because we tasted a slice of apple, a wedge of lemon, a cube of cheese, cooked unsalted fish and steak. Next to these foods were condiments such as salt and pepper. We had the experience of tasting each food by itself with the wines (white, rose, light tannin red and strong tannin red) and then adding salt/ pepper/ lemon to the cheese/ fish/ steak! Fun indeed and a great way to learn!

What I learnt from the session was,

  • Highly acidic foods (sour) – softens a wine
  • Sweet foods  & umami tastes – turns a wine sour and ‘stronger' (Hence, for any sweet foods/ desserts, the wine has to be sweeter in order not to be overpowered by the dish)
  • Salty foods – blocks the bitter sensation and makes wine taste ‘sweeter'
  • Salt BALANCED foods are wine FRIENDLY (as most cooking requires salt)
  • Tannins make our palate more sensitive to spices (no wonder I'm not a fan of big reds with curries!)
And off course after this mind stimulating session comes to a close, there comes the time to stimulate the palate….Check out my next post for Beringer's Private Reserve Selections and their single vineyard icon!

Always trust your PALate, it's your PAL!


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