When it comes to pairing wine and food the most important step is identifying the dominant flavor in the food. However, keep in mind the dominant flavor isn’t necessarily the main ingredient. Sometimes it is a spice or a flavor in the sauce.
The next step is to focus on the food’s key details — weight, acidity, saltiness, sweetness, texture and flavor intensity.
Weight is the most important component to consider. Instead of thinking white wines with fish and red wines with meat, consider rich foods with rich wines and subtle flavors with light wines.
Examples of rich, robust flavors include beef, lamb, duck, venison, mushrooms, garlic and strong spices such as rosemary or oregano. Also, cooking techniques such as grilling or roasting call for lustier wines.
Light flavors include chicken, veal, fish, pork, and delicate herbs. Cooking methods like steaming, stir-frying or baking call for more nuanced wines.
Wines with high acidity pair best with tart or sour foods. The pairing will complement the food and the wine will taste bright and fresh. Examples of such include dishes with lemon or orange sauces, fresh tomatoes, fresh lemon or lime and feta cheeses.
Saltiness is enhanced by a touch of sweetness or sparkle. Ideal pairings include Roquefort cheese and Sauternes, caviar and Champagne, oysters and sparkling wine, salted mixed nuts and fino sherry or olives and manzanilla sherry.
Tannin is often referred to when describing a wine’s texture. Red wines play the most integral role in food enhancement. If a food is high in fat it will coat the mouth, and tannin’s role is to strip the fat and ready the palate for the next sumptuous bite.
Finally there’s flavor intensity. Intensely flavored wines can be used to contrast rich foods or simply complement the flavor. For example, lightbodied Rieslings or Gewurztraminers are intensely flavored wines and can be used to cut through rich foods such as a curry sauces.
- Weight: Rich, robust flavors 2007 Root 1 Cabernet Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $12 retail)
- Acidity 2008 Casillero Del Diablo Sauvignon Blanc, Chile (about $14 retail)
- Saltiness NV Freixenet Cordon Negro Brut, Spain (about $15 retail)
- Texture 2008 Yali Cabernet Sauvignon, Chile (about $10 retail)
- Flavor intensity 2007 Bloom Riesling, Germany (about $10 retail)
- Weight: Rich, robust flavors 2006 Trapiche Oak Cask Malbec, Argentina (about $16 retail)
- Acidity 2007 Spy Valley Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand (about $18 retail) Saltiness NV Roederer Estate Brut, California (about $22 retail)
- Texture 2006 Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, California (about $40 retail) Flavor intensity 2005 Hugel Riesling, France (about $26 retail)