Wine pairings aren’t just for the gourmet foodie. Once you know what to look and taste for you can be a pairing pro!
From sparkling white wine to a rich, deep red wine, any kind of food and wine pairing can be made into a perfect match. Especially if you know what qualities complement each other.
Certain aspects of the chemical makeup of wine are what will make it a perfect match or a too-much of something mistake.
What To Consider When Pairing Wine With Foods
While grapes are still on the vine, a lot of choices are being made as to how to care for them in order to achieve the desired taste by the grower. Even something as simple as making sure the grapes have enough shade, or when you irrigate during the season can change how the wine will turn out.
Vineyard management practices, conditions, vintage variations, and winemaking practices will all play a role in the quality and type of wine that is produced in the vineyard.
Sounds like a lot goes into producing a good flavor profile for each wine, right? Well, let’s talk about some of the elements of wine that change the flavor profile of a meal.
The skins, stems, leaves, and other parts of the grape produce a compound known as tannins. The grower can take these parts and add them to the wine while it’s fermenting to add more tannins, producing a more astringent flavor in the wine. But what are tannins? Well, have you ever plucked an unripe piece of fruit off the tree in grandma’s backyard and experienced that puckering all-over mouth-coating sensation? Yeah, those are tannins.
It might sound negative, but this added texture is actually very important in balancing a wine to give it a nice round mouthfeel. Tannins polymerize and form a chain with each other the longer they are allowed to ferment in a bottle, which is actually what will create the sediment that will sometimes be found floating around at the bottom of the bottle.
Like many things in life, opposites with wine and food do often attract. Tannic wines are best paired with fatty foods because the drying effect that tannins have on the mouth will be a compliment to the soft, creamy taste of fatty foods.
Is there something acidic on the menu, such as a salad with a nice tangy vinaigrette? When it comes to wines, acidity should always be matched or greater in the wine when compared to the food. If the food is higher in acidity to the wine then the wine will taste flat.
How about a heavier food, something rich and bold in flavor? Well, that’s easy! Heavier bodied wines will match perfectly, rather than something light like a white wine, which would be completely overpowered. In the same regard, if you have a lighter dish, pair it with a lighter wine.
Alcohol Content Of The Wine
We can’t talk about wine and not mention the alcohol content! How does this factor into pairing wines with their food soulmates? Well, alcohol content definitely plays an important role in wine and food pairing, especially with spicy foods. Foods that are hotter work better with lower alcohol, sweeter wines. A sip of this type of wine should help to tone down the spice after every bite, but it works both ways. Spicier food paired with a higher alcohol content will end up tasting much spicier, possibly unpleasantly so.
There is so much to consider when pairing wines and foods, which is why we’ve created this list to help you decide how best to pair in regards to acidity, tannin content, alcohol volume, and weight of the wines.
5 Wine And Food Pairings
Hazelnuts And Wine Pairings
Hazelnuts are one of the more versatile nuts that can be eaten as a crust on fish, baked into desserts, roasted for a light snack, or tossed raw into a salad. Pairing wine with hazelnuts is simple, and so, so tasty. With raw nuts, it’s best to choose a light, fresh wine such as Pinot Grigio. With more flavor and fun, comes more wine pairing ideas!
Once roasted, the hazelnuts will pair better with a wine that has a heavier mouth feel such as a rich red. Cabernet Sauvignon and other dry reds like Malbec, Pinot Noir, or Syrah would be a great wine pairing to go with the creamy nuttiness of roasted hazelnut.
Adding a touch of salt to the crunchy, delicious air roasted hazelnut changes the flavor profile enough that the new best wine pairing for these hazelnuts is something extra dry. The high acidity is good to balance out the fat content of the nuts, however, we wouldn’t want to go with a bold red here because the high tannin level would make salty food seem overly salted. A very strong recommendation for lightly salted nuts would be Gamay, however, the ever-popular Pinot Noir would pair perfectly well also.
Something fruity, something red, yes that sweet red nectar we’re thinking of is Lambrusco. With its sweetness, Lambrusco is the perfect wine to pair with the sassy spice of spicy barbecue hazelnuts.
Sweet and Savory
A Port would be delicious when paired with this sweet and savory hazelnut. A general rule of pairing wine with eating sweets is to drink a wine that is even sweeter than the food. Port is a very sweet, red dessert wine that is nearly forgotten these days that would bring out all the right notes in sweet and savory hazelnuts.
With the light flavor of sweet cinnamon brushed onto the creamy rich Oregon hazelnuts, you could never go wrong with a nice light-bodied red. Beaujolais is sweet enough to enhance the cinnamon flavor, while not overly tannic enough that the bite of nuts is overpowered.
Steak Wine Pairing
Remember those tannins we talked about? Well, they love a good fatty steak. Steak that is well-marbled, and when especially cooked on the rarer side is the perfect match to a nice tannic red wine. The most tannic red wine is Nebbiolo, which is native to the Piedmont region of Italy, but a Syrah and Cabernet also make an excellent wine pairing for a juicy, thick steak. Prefer your steak well cooked? No problem, you’ll just want to order a glass of wine with a little more acidity and a lighter body to go with leaner red meat. The best wines to pair with well-cooked red meat are Cinsault and Merlot.
Salmon Wine Pairing
Typically when we think about pairing wine with meat, the general rule is to pair white wine with white meat and red wine with red meat. Salmon has some rules of its own. It’s a fattier fish, and depending on how it is served, different wines will go best. When served raw as sashimi, a high acid wine would work best, such as Pinot Grigio or Riesling. The acid cuts through the fat for a nice balance but is light enough to have with a light fish. Cooked with the skin on, salmon is best paired with a lighter-bodied, moderately tannic wine such as Pinot Noir.
Turkey And Wine Pairings
As a white meat, turkey is best paired with a higher acidity white wine, but as it can be such rich meat, a lighter-bodied less tannic red wine will also do the trick. Châteauneuf du Pape is well known as the best wine to pair with turkey in America. Turkey is most commonly on the table during the holidays, which means there are plenty of side dishes on the table too. This is why when picking a wine it is important to consider something that won’t be ruined by, or ruin, the meal due to the large variety of other flavors on the table. Châteauneuf du Pape works well with the varieties of a large turkey dinner because it has an earthy, herbal type of flavor that works well when different herbs and savory flavors come into play.
Lamb Wine Pairing
When pairing wine to meat, one rule of thumb is to pair it to the sauce. That is why lamb can be so versatile to pair wines with. Generally, a lighter red wine would pair beautifully such as Beaujolais, or Châteauneuf du Pape’s neighbor, some Côtes du Rhône. Lamb cooked in curry sauce would call for a nice fruity wine to balance out the spiciness of the dish. Campo Viejo Rioja Tempranillo from the Rioja region of Spain would do rather nicely. Many of the most delectable, flavorful lamb recipes are Greek, and if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that wine and food from the same region can generally go really well together. Xinomavro from Naoussa would be my choice here, as it’s highly acidic, and has notes of spices and fruits, it would pair well with the flavorful sauces used in Greek cuisine.
To Pair Or Not To Pair
There are many ways to pair your food and wine to make a meal that much more pleasing. Always take into account acidity, alcohol content, tannin level, and weight of the wine. If unsure, it’s best to pair regions of food with regions of wine, and stick to simple color-coding with meats or pair to the sauce. The most important aspect of pairing food with wine is to do what tastes best to you!