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Mark Beaulieu

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Wine Pairings

 

by Mark Beaulieu

11/06/2002


Wine and food together form a dining experience. Keep some basic things in mind as you make your own artful balance.


White wine with fish and red wine with meat

Good start. As you get to know wines you will find that lighter wines match delicate dishes, and heavier wines match fuller flavors. Red wines are distinct from whites in two main ways: tannin and flavor. White and red wines share many common flavors; both can be spicy, buttery, leathery, earthy or floral. But if you are looking to add to your dish apple, pear and citrus flavors - you find this commonly in white wines. But the tannins and currant, cherry and stone fruit flavors are found in the red.


Enjoy the wine first

Choose a wine that you want to drink by itself. Start without food. This is the best way to appreciate vintage qualities. For an appetizing beginning to a meal, use what the wineries do when tasting wine - have crackers, light bread, cheese, perhaps some fruit. Also offer water which clears the pallet. The smart thrifty diner knows to drink water for thirst, wine for taste. Good wine can bridge into a meal. But food will change the apparent contribution of the wine. Generally you are matching light wine and food delicacy against heavier wines with food complexity as we will see on the list below. Judge the bottle by itself. The same grape, the same vineyard, the same year may have many variations. Some Sauvignon Blancs are bigger than some Chardonnays. You will also find nationalities are important. Consider a Cabernet - Australia and the United States make far heavier reds than the French.


Classic secrets

Some classic wine-and-food matches have worked in restaurants for years. For salads note that a lemon or acidic salad dressing will make a wine taste sweeter. Muscadet washes down a plate of oysters because it is weighty enough to match the raw delicacy. Cabernet complements lamb chops or roast lamb because they are both equally vigorous. Pinot Noir or Burgundy makes a better match with roast beef because their common richness of texture. As the meal progresses the palette is overwhelmed and your richer wines usually work best here, although a hungry crew may not fully appreciate what they are drinking.


Heavy food, heavy wine

Balance the wine with the food to keep their weight in the same class. The lighter wines are dry, meaning they have little sugar. These are often white. The heavy wines are generally sweet or complex. In the heavies - tannin and stem add complexity in reds, while wood aging adds complexity to whites. Hearty food needs a hearty wine which overpowers a light wine and is lost. With lighter food, you have more options. The following simple list lets you choose a big wine at the end or a light wine at the top. Don't get stuck on Cabernet with lamb. Look up and down the list and try Zinfandel or Côtes-du-Rhône. Instead of Burgundy or Pinot Noir with roast beef, try a St.-Emilion or Barbera. That's the way to put a little variety into your wine life without straying from the original purpose.

The Basics of Matching Wine with Food