Food pairing

It is of the utmost priority that you are drinking the wines you love.

Drink your favourite labels and varieties daily. Drink with good company. Drink with any dish or have wine by itself. Do take somewhat seriously, the guidelines to drink in moderation….

Food and wine pairing in itself is a devil to master, and makes up a significant component of the WSET exams. It should also align with what you like to drink most. Just like how tomato’s and basil make for a class Bonnie and Clyde due, there are a few simple guidelines to live by when choosing the perfect wine for your meal.

The first point to note, is that people have different tastes and sensitivities to various flavor and aroma components. Some like strong reactions, while others find them unpleasant. For lots of us, a hot curry plus alcohol heat is too much and masks a wine’s fruity flavors. While other diners have high tolerance levels and others will daringly love the burn and seek adventure out!

So pairing by nature, should take into account the preferences of the individual, as well as the basic interactions between food and wine.

Taste buds in the human mouth are adaptable, and tasting one food can actually affect the taste on another. Such dominant food tastes include ; toothpaste will make you taste more ‘orange’, and chocolate may make for a protective mouth-coating.

What to be aware of when pairing wine and food:

  • Sweetness and Umami – harder, more astringent, bitter, acidic, less sweet, less fruity.
  • Salt and Acid – softer, less astringent, bitter, acidic, sweeter and fruity.

WSET has defined its own handy ‘Pocket Guide to Food and Wine Pairing‘, where there are some guidelines to help you pick a bottle from the liquor store, or off the wine list at the restaurant. We’ve kindly listed them below:

Balance Acidity: Acidic foods, such as tomatoes and vinaigrettes in your salad, will reduce the perception of acidity in the wine and will enhance the fruitiness and sweetness. So light wines from cool climates like Italian Pinot Grigio and Muscadet will seem more flavor some, smoother, and less acidic. Try pairing these with seafood dashed with lemon juice or light pasta dishes with a tomato sauce.

Turn Down the Heat: As I said, most of us should beware of chili when pairing wines! The heat in spicy meals can increase the alcohol burn of wine and heighten the perception of bitterness and acidity. Lighter reds with less bitter tannin like Pinot Noir and Valpolicella can be the answer.  White wines that are low in alcohol often also have some sweetness and that sugar can act as a soothing syrup against the chili. Look for off-dry Riesling from Germany or Vouvray from France.

Add a Sprinkle of Salt: Salt is a wine-friendly flavor that enables you to go big and bold when picking a bottle. Like acidic foods, salt enhances body in a wine whilst decreasing the perception of bitterness and acidity. Cured or smoked seafood, meats and hard cheeses can pair with even the most powerful of wines, such as a high tannin Cabernet Sauvignon or oak-aged Chardonnay.

Serve Sweet with Sweet: Sweetness in food can make a dry wine lose its fruit flavor and become unpleasantly acidic and bitter. A good law to live by is to choose a wine with a higher level of sweetness than the food so it retains its body in the mouth. Look for a bottle labelled from ‘medium-dry’ to ‘sweet’ (or test your French with ‘demi-sec’ and ‘doux’) depending on the sweetness of your dish. But you don’t always need pudding to enjoy a bottle of the sweet stuff. If you’re a fan of salted caramel, repeat the trick with salty cheese and dessert wine – stilton and Tokaj is a personal favourite!

Trust the Classics: Some things are just made for each other. Juicy steak with a punchy Argentinian Malbec or smoked salmon and oysters with a crisp Champagne are tried and tested pairings that will always please their audience. These work for good reasons, so you can often trust your instincts. If in doubt, a simple, un-oaked wine with a little residual sugar will go with just about anything!

We can go deeper into regions and years too and it gets complicated.

Wine and food pairing guide

Food dish: Base your judgement on cheese/ meat/ nut-based meal.

Wine choice: Appropriate varietal most suitably paired.

Here’s a simple guide to assist you in selecting a wine to pair with a different foods; and the accepted guide for what to take, when you are aware in advance of what is being served.

Image result for wine and food pairing chart

The key to getting the best wine match for a meal is to understand the base components of the dish.

Classic matches such as a salty rib eye steak and a tannic and acidic Barolo work well for most people because the combination of salt and fat on the steak will smooth the tannins and make the wine softer and smoother. If you don’t want to splash out on a Barolo, any high acidity and tannic red wine will work, try one from Madiran for a good value match made in heaven.

This principle works well with other dishes with similar base flavors – so vegetarians could achieve the same with a fatty, salty, acidic vegetarian Moussaka for example.

Muscadet or Champagne are classic matches for oysters because the high acidity in the wine is softened by the tangy lemon juice or vinegar accompaniment of the oyster. In the same way, high acidity wines like Albariño, Gavi or Chablis are also a safe bet for sipping with your shellfish.

Want to enjoy a zingy white, but not a fan of oysters? A simple Tuna Niçoise salad with a strong sharp dressing will act in the same way.

There is a lot more to learn, but the key is to discover for yourself and not be dictated to. Choose wines you enjoy and think about the salt, fat and acidity in your food.

Be flexible in your food and wine choices

Most importantly, whatever budget you have, just have fun and experiment! After all, that is what wine is all about.

For more information on the WSET study program and food pairing guides, see: