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Food and wine pairing.

The first and most important rule of pairing wine with food.

"Surely it's what you like that counts." This is the most commonly asked question when considering food and wine pairing for the first time.

If choosing for yourself anything goes: Port & kippers, chocolate and Muscadet, and Château Lafite and chips are all perfectly acceptable when dining alone (though probably unwise at the same sitting). However, serving any of these combinations at a party would be a quick way to reduce the acceptance list at the your next one. If you are choosing wine to match a dish for a group knowledge of what the majority is going to like helps. What the majority will like is largely determined by balance. Does the wine overpower the food? Maybe the food overpowers the wine? Or can you still taste both after they have been on the palate for a few seconds.

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Sign up to our free wine course - www.freewinecourse.com - for more
information on food and wine pairing, as well as:

How to taste wine / How your senses work / Tasting practicalities
Tasting exercises / Blind tasting / Methods of wine scoring
Storage practices / Wine service / The effect of the grape on taste
The effect of location on taste / The effect of vine growing on taste
The effect of wine making on taste / The effect of the year on taste
Profiles of classical wine styles / The secrets of the label
Food and wine pairing / Buying with confidence and more...

Plus a range of free interactive wine tasting tools including:
Wine tasting note tool / Food and wine pairing tool / scoring tool

All online, in your own time and for free.
No pitch, no catches, no strings - just add your own wine!

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Exercise - Next time you want to consider pairing a wine with your food, you might like to try the following:

Take a little of the food onto the palate, chew and swallow (instructions on how to eat, what next?), then take a slurp of the wine, give it a quick sloosh (technical wine term) before swallowing. Then wait for three seconds. Can you still taste the food or has it been lost due to the strength of the wine? Conversely, perhaps the food still dominates and the wine is all but lost. What you are looking for in a good food and wine pairing is a situation where you can still taste and appreciate the flavours given by both. Then you'll have a combination that the majority will enjoy.The food and wine matcher's holy grail is the 'third flavour', where both food and wine can be appreciated fully on the palate but also come together to form an entirely new flavour. Third flavour experiences are fairly rare when pairing food with wine, though can be quite special - the effect can be heard as far away as five hundred yards in wine circles! It's quite a personal thing as the perception of individual flavour compounds is subjective, though there will be third flavour experiences out there for everyone. Happy hunting!


The Occasion.

There are no definitive answers as to which individual wine will best match a particular dish, as taste is subjective and most dishes have an array of different flavours. However, by following a few simple guidelines the enjoyment of a meal can be greatly enhanced, and unpleasant matches can be avoided.

Time of year, weather and the nature of the function will help to determine which wine to choose with which food. An afternoon garden party would lend itself well to a crisp white or refreshing rosé, whereas a robust red might be more suitable for an evening meal in mid winter.


Holiday wines and regional pairings.

The saying 'some wines don't travel' stems from the disappointment of returning with a bottle of wine enjoyed on holiday and it not living up to expectations once back. The principal reason for this is that one is relaxed and enjoying everything to a greater extent whilst on holiday, though another important factor is that regional wines to an extent have evolved along with the food of the area and provide a sensible food and wine pairing, making the experience a more pleasurable one.


Order of service when pairing food with wine.

If having more than one wine, whether with or without food, the order in which they are served becomes important.

Lighter wines should be drunk before heavier ones.

A rich wine will mask the characters of a lighter wine served first. Similarly, dry wines should be tasted before sweet ones for the same reason.

Young before old.

Young wines should be drunk before older ones, so as for each to be appreciated fully. The younger wines will taste of little after your palate has been exposed to the complex flavours of an older wine (if it's good of course!).

Conversely (regarding age and quality) when drinking more than two or three glasses at a meal, it might be an idea to have the finer or older wines first, so that they may be remembered the next day! Many are the times that I have discovered a prized bottle empty in the kitchen on the morning after a dinner party and thought, 'Ah, yes, now what did that taste like?'



Difficult food and wine pairings.

Some foods are difficult to match with wine due to their richness. Chocolate coats the palate and is best without wine (although Port can provide an excellent match), and the hottest curried and chilli based foods are better with beer (there are a range of delicious pairings for lighter curried food - see the Tasting toolkit in www.freewinecourse.com). Eggs can also be difficult as they seal the taste buds, unless the yolks are broken as in a soufflé. Artichoke and asparagus contain Cynarin, which reacts with wine to give an unusual and not too pleasant flavour and the menthol and vinegar in mint sauce are often unsuspected reasons for odd tasting wine with roast lamb.


Consider the structure.

The reason that some wines match certain foods better than others is principally due to the structure of the wine, rather than any specific flavours the wine may have, or its colour. The often-quoted 'red wine with meat and white wine with fish' is a start, however this is an over-generalisation, as there are a myriad of delicious contradictions.

The Structure - Acidity, Sweetness, Tannin and Alcohol.
The level of acidity, sweetness, tannin (red wines) and alcohol are principal factors that contribute to the structure of a wine. The structure is the first consideration when pairing wine with food, before considering the actual flavour a wine has. The first task is to balance the structure and general richness of the wine to the richness of the dish.

Considering Acidity in food and wine pairings.
Acidity is the crispness tasted on the sides of the tongue and it is the backbone to every wine. Wines with a higher level of acidity will be suited to lighter, fresher foods, e.g. salads and dishes with a more delicate base of flavours. However, too much vinegar in a salad dressing or on food will distort the wine, making it taste unpleasant. Citrus fruit will have the same effect, though to a lesser extent. Sauvignon based wines, and Riesling and Muscadet are all examples of wines with a high level of acidity, so are likely to suit lighter foods. Chardonnay and Semillon have less noticeable acidity, and are suited to richer foods.

Considering sweetness when pairing food and wine.

Most sweet wines are white and rosé (with the exception of Port and a small number of red dessert wines) and are best served with foods of comparable sweetness. If a wine is sweeter than the dish, the dish will taste flavourless, alternatively if the food is noticeably sweeter, the wine will seem thin and acidic. Many fine sweet wines are also suited to very fatty dishes such as paté due to their sheer richness; the classic and most decadent example being Sauternes and Fois Gras. Sugar in a wine also combines well with the salt and richness of cheeses, a good pairing being Port and Stilton, though most sweet whites will pair equally well with cheese - Sauternes and Roquefort being another classic.

Considering Tannin when pairing food and wine.
Tannins are found in red wines and are not present in any significant quantity in whites. Tannin is often austere and drying to the palate in young full-bodied reds (think of the sensation of cold tea on the roof of your mouth). They react well with high protein dishes, as protein helps to soften tannin, giving a smoother feel to the wine. Cabernet Sauvignon or Syrah based wines have a high level of tannin and are well suited to pairing with protein rich red meats. Red wines containing less tannin, such as a Beaujolais or Pinot Noir are often better with dishes containing less protein e.g. strongly flavoured fish and white meats.

Alcohol's affect on food and wine pairing.
The alcohol in a wine also contributes to the structure and has a similar effect to sugar. High alcohol wines will generally overpower lighter dishes and are more suited to foods with a stronger set of flavours.

Flavour

After having followed the guidelines on structure so far, the last consideration is the flavour. The depth of flavour and not the particular flavour a wine should be considered initially. As a rule, wines with strong flavours suit strongly flavoured dishes and lighter flavours demand a lighter dish. The full flavours of Gewürztraminer for instance will overpower a delicate salmon mousse. By the same token the fine nuances of a Mosel Riesling Kabinett will be little match for those in smoked herring.

Also worth considering when pairing wine with food is the variety of flavour in a dish. If a dish has a great range of flavours, for example seafood salad, it is probably in need of a wine with a simple singular flavour, so as not to confuse the palate, e.g. a simple refreshing Pinot Blanc or Sauvignon. By the same token, when drinking a great wine with a myriad of subtle flavours, it is best to match it with a simple dish that will not distort the wine's own flavours; a fine old Cabernet would be best with a piece of steak and plain vegetables and not a dish with a wide range of elements and different sauces.In summary, enjoyment will be gained when good food and wine is involved; though when a few basic principles of food and wine pairing are applied a platform for experimentation is set in place, giving a higher rate of enjoyable combinations, and helping avoid unpleasant mis-matches.

Summary
In short, when on your own, anything goes - it's your palate. When you're with friends anything goes, but maybe try to balance food and wine. When impressing a prospective client or potential father in law, forget your usual liqueur muscat and fish fingers!

My first food and wine pairing lesson.

'It's up to you lot to sell this wine, we need to reduce stocks', barked the head sommelier, by then into his fourth decade at the Grand Hotel, Brighton. He was referring to the over-order (his) of Sauternes that month, and he knew he'd feel the sharp edge of the general manager's tongue if it wasn't down to sensible levels by stock-take day. At dinner that evening a rather disagreeable gentlemen guest, only marginally louder than his tie, summoned me with a cursory click of his fingers, much to the delight and awe of his two giggling young 'nieces' (my naivety then precluded any other conclusion). 'What are your suggestions for the Dover sole?' he sneered.  A sharp glance from the head sommelier told me it would be unwise to suggest an orifice in which to insert it. I thought that this would be a splendid opportunity to reduce our stock levels, knowing only too well that pitching the sole against the unctuously sweet Sauternes was the gastronomic equivalent to a bout between Liberace and Mohammed Ali. Retorting with the sort of look perfected by Roger Moore and wine waiters worldwide (I had been practicing the questioning raised eyebrow for the duration of my spell as a trainee) I asked, 'Have you ever tried the Château Climens 1970? It was made with sole in mind!' His nodded response sent me off in the direction of the cellar.

Later, as they polished the last morsels of sole from their plate, the party again called me over, this time minus a click of the fingers. Now regretting my earlier rashness, I prepared to offer myself to their mercy. 'Superb!' the host cried, not quite having finished his last mouthful, 'Your recommendation was absolutely top drawer'. The continued giggling seemed to indicate that his nieces had also enjoyed the combination. This taught me the first and probably the most important rule of food and wine pairing at the start of my career; that when pairing food and wine, the greatest pleasure will be derived from drinking a wine you like with a food you like. The Sauternes and the sole were each delicious and the guest happened to like both so much for revenge!

Francis Gimblett. Taste of the Vine

********************************************************************************
Sign up to our free wine course - www.freewinecourse.com - for more
information on food and wine pairing, as well as:

How to taste wine / How your senses work / Tasting practicalities
Tasting exercises / Blind tasting / Methods of wine scoring
Storage practices / Wine service / The effect of the grape on taste
The effect of location on taste / The effect of vine growing on taste
The effect of wine making on taste / The effect of the year on taste
Profiles of classical wine styles / The secrets of the label
Food and wine pairing / Buying with confidence and more...

Plus a range of free interactive wine tasting tools including:
Wine tasting note tool / Food and wine pairing tool / scoring tool

All online, in your own time and for free.
No pitch, no catches, no strings - just add your own wine!

www.freewinecourse.com

********************************************************************************

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