The Dance: Choreographing wine and food
Vintage Blast with The Saucy Sisters
The Saucy Sisters | May 31, 2012, 4:02 p.m.
A century ago, life was simpler. Everyone just drank their local wine and didn't worry about the "perfect match" for a meal.
Then wine snobs came up with rules.
First, the rules were as simple as red wine with meat and white wine with fish. But food got more complex and so did the rules.
The truth is we hate rules. We like to think of food and wine as a couple of ballroom dancers. Each one affects the performance of the partner. Sometimes the couple is slightly out of step. Other times their footwork meshes seamlessly. On rare occasions, they move as one and transform a simple dance into a moment of magic. But even when both partners have two left feet, dancing is still fun.
Food and wine, whatever their individual personalities, influence the way the other one tastes. A particular food can exaggerate or diminish the flavor of a wine. A certain wine can overwhelm a food. When a food and wine combination has real synergy, the effect can be a flavor experience that's greater than the two consumed separately. Not to burst anyone's bubble, but those perfect unions are few and far between. That's why we look for "mere" compatibility when we make our matches.
A Sour Taste in Your Mouth
Foods that have a sour component are good matches for wines that are high in acid. A salad with a vinaigrette dressing and a fish filet squirted with lemon both cry out for a high acid wine. You're matching acid with acid. (Notice here that you're not matching the wine to the fish filet itself or to the lettuce in the salad. You're taking the preparation into consideration.) Tomatoes, onions, green peppers, and green apples are examples of other high-acid foods.
So, what wines are some potential high-acid food partners? Sauvignon Blanc, to start. Also the northern French whites of Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, Vouvray, and Chablis. The wines of Alsace and Germany generally have high acidity. The acids in reds are often masked by the tannins, but safe bets are Italian reds. (Why do you think Italian wines go so perfectly with tomato-based pasta sauces?)
The sweeter the food, the less sweet a wine will taste. Say you're eating a slice of roast pork with a glass of off-dry Chenin Blanc. The sweetness of the wine will be obvious. Top your pork with a pineapple glaze, and your glass of wine will taste positively dry.
When you get to dessert, the rule-of-thumb is to drink a wine that's sweeter than your food. Even a moderately sweet wine can taste thin, unpleasantly dry, and even bitter when you pair it with a sugar blockbuster.
Salt of the Earth
There are no salty wines (unless you're drinking cooking wine). But there are plenty of salty foods: ham, smoked salmon, oysters, teriyaki beef. The best wine accompaniments? Back to high-acid wines - especially sparkling wines. Acid cuts the saltiness - just like a squeeze of lemon does.
Both food and wine have texture and flavor intensity that are part of the pairing equation. A big, brawny Amarone would overwhelm a dainty little broiled flounder at first sip. Conversely, a delicate Pinot Grigio wouldn't stand a chance of making an impression next to a fiery French pepper steak.
Alcohol is one of the contributors to a wine's sense of body and weight - the more alcohol, the more full-bodied the wine. So, even before tasting a wine, you can gauge its body by its alcohol content. A fuller-bodied wine will have more than 12 percent alcohol. Lighter-bodied wines will have less than 12 percent.
Now that we've given you some professional guidance to choosing a wine, we have to admit that the best strategy of all is to match the wine to your friends. Some people have distinct wine preferences. Sure, you may think your friends need to walk on the wild side and try something other than their usual Chardonnay or Cabernet, but you can never go wrong by catering to their tastes. Sometimes it's just best to follow their lead.
Barbara and Beverly
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