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Wine and Food Pairing

The basic rules of thumb

Some people might not see the need for choosing a special wine for dinner and may simply serve whatever they have in the house. Others, however, may wish to serve a particular wine to pair with specific dishes. The choice is a personal one for the most part, although some foods just sing when they are paired with the right wine. It all comes down to personal choice and is in the end about what you enjoy.

In general, we have always heard white wine with white meats of fish and red wines with red meats, but people tend to drink what they enjoy with whatever they are eating. Rather than choosing your pairings by the colour of your food, try to match the wine to the cooking method or the sauce being used, as these things impact the primary flavours. Choose a smoky red wine or a barrel-aged white for grilled meats, and lighter, more delicate wines for delicately flavoured foods.

Aside from a few non-starters and pairings that absolutely do not work, you can pretty much get away with anything if you remember the bad choices. Among these are a handful of foods that we like to call ‘wine killers’ – no matter what type of wine you pair with them, nothing is going to taste right.

Dealing with “wine killers”

Artichokes contain a substance called cyanin, which is bitter and interacts badly with wine.
Asparagus contains mercaptans that can cause a wine to taste off.
Spinach has high iron content and can make red wines taste metallic.

For any of the above, you can combat the effect by adding fresh lemon juice and sea salt to the food, or in a dish on the side which you can dip the food into. This will effectively neutralize your palate for both wine and food.

Spicy foods do not go well with many red wines. This is due to a high tannin level that interacts with the heat, causing your mouth to feel like it’s on fire: you won’t be able to taste either the wine, or the food! You can, however make this work if you choose red wines that are low in tannin, such as an Alentejo.

Salads can be a problem as well, due to the vinaigrette that is commonly used as a dressing. Combat this by pairing the salad with a wine that is high in acidity, such as a Vinho Verde, or even a sparkling wine like Cava.

For fried foods, salty foods, or dishes that contain a lot of fat, choose a wine that is slightly sweet to balance the impression of fattiness. Salty dishes also do well with dry white wines.

Rich seafoods and shellfish like lobster cooked in butter, shrimp scampi or scallops are a perfect match with barrel aged whites from Rueda, for instance. Again, here you are matching textures, so be sure to choose a big wine that will match the richness of the shellfish.

For savoury, braised meats and stews, an older red wine is perfect as it displays similar meaty, savoury flavours.
Pizza, smoked meats, barbeque or other saucy dishes do well with low-acid full bodied wines like a big Douro red.

Write your findings on a journal so you can remember and share the information with your guests if they ask – there is nothing worse than remembering the experience of that perfect pairing but forgetting which wine made it happen!

Enjoy your wine adventures and don’t be afraid to make some mistakes. Wine pairing mistakes make for some interesting conversation around the table, and you may even come up with some fodder for your next tasting in the process. Cheers!

by Miguel Dias