Many new wine drinkers tend to be very nervous about the concept of pairing wine with food. There are plenty of resources out there which will make you think that this pairing is overly complicated, and that your guests will look down on you if you choose an "incorrect" pairing. The selection of appropriate food and wine pairings was at one point an art practiced only by the gourmand or the Maitre d’ at your favorite expensive restaurant.
The truth is that there are very few rules to follow when pairing food and wine, and even those have exceptions. When deciding which fruit of the vine to serve with your meal, the important thing to remember is that this should be an enjoyable experience. Although there are some basic guidelines, it's mostly about personal tastes.
Balance the Tastes
When pairing food and wine, balance is key. No one element of the food or the beverage should outweigh the other elements of the meal. Although your personal preferences are paramount, the general consensus is that heavy foods are more enjoyable when paired with full-bodied reds and lighter foods are better with delicate, simple whites. Red wine is said to enhance the flavors of the food and should not overpower the tastes to your meal. Food and wine pairings for white wines are often lighter and crisper in taste.
Our tongues can detect only five types of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami (protein). When pairing food and wine, the classic combinations involve matching similar elements in the food and the wine.
What does this mean for the casual wine drinker? It means that you may enjoy that light, healthy dinner of catfish fillets, rice, and steamed broccoli with a light white, such as a Pinot Noir.
A decadent holiday dinner of beef roast and mashed potatoes goes well with the deep and complex character of reds like Merlot and red Zinfandel.
Meals which are ruled by the umami taste, such as oily fish or sushi, may be enjoyed most with a crisp and fruity wine like Chardonnay. Champagne is also a great choice for meals involving fish or cheese.
Desserts tend to go best with dessert wines such as sweet sherry and port. In general, the wine should be sweeter than the dessert. While it may seem counter-intuitive to serve a very sweet drink with a sweet dessert, the sugar in the dessert works well to balance out the inherent acidity in the wine.
Break the Rules
The most important thing to remember when pairing food and wine is that you should love every moment of the experience. Experimenting with combinations that don't conform to the standard rules of food pairing can be fun, and you can end up with some new favorite flavor experiences that have nothing to do with the traditional rules.
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