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Food & Wine Pairing: My 5 Tips to Making a Perfect Match!

The number one question I get from people is “what is your favourite wine?” and I kindly respond with “I don’t have one” (insert gasp and confusion here). This is because I am a huge fan of picking my wine to match my food, or vice versa. I believe there is a place for all styles of wine, depending on the occasion and the food you are eating, and personal preference of course! I am that person at restaurants who opens the wine list side by side my food menu and carefully contemplates what I can drink with my food, to make my experience that much better!

I have actually had a few high-end restaurants alter their recipes to better suit the wine I have chosen (Shout out to Scaramouche, Edulis, The Reluctant Chef) because it is such a mind-blowing experience when you get the perfect match. Let’s look at 5 tips to making the the magic happen- whether you are at home or at a restaurant!

1. Pair Like Food with Like Wine

Think body and heaviness of both your wine and your food. If you are eating something light and refreshing, you should pick a wine that is light and refreshing as well. You don’t want your wine to over power your food. Conversely, a rich food needs a full body wine to stand up to the flavours in your dish. This is also important when you think about sweetness; your wine should be as sweet as your dessert, if one is more sweet or luscious than the other, you are going to end up with your wine tasting flat or your dessert tasting bland.

Exceptions: Bitterness in food- will make your food taste more bitter; try to avoid wine with too much tannin, if the food you are eating is bitter.

Spicy food will also increase the bitterness of your wine, avoid tannin.

2. Umami is Your Friend in Food but Your Foe with Wine

We all know the utter satisfaction of foods rich in umami, they make you crave more with every bite. If you don’t know what I am talking about, think Chinese Take-Out, Dried or Cooked Mushrooms and Truffles, Soy Sauce, or Parmesan Cheese. They are that flavour in your mouth you just can’t get enough of, but you also can’t quite pinpoint. And while it is utterly delicious, it can be really hard to pair with wine. Umami increases the perception of bitterness, acid, and the warming effect of alcohol in wine, and can decrease sugar and body. So your safest bet is a fruit forward wine with not much structure or sweetness. This is hard to find. Dry Riesling is always a good option with Chinese food. Or try a wine with umami of its own- a dry Sherry is an excellent option for cheeses rich in umami.

3. Pizza is from Italy, Make Sure Your Wine is Too

Maybe this is a tinge of my Italian culture shining through, but to me, pizza deserves to be paired with Italian wine. It is a match made in heaven. Try a Barbera D’Asti or Barbera D’Alba, they are dry red wines with loads of cherry, some game and a hint of spice, acid is pretty high and works excellently with the acidity of the tomato sauce! And if you are vehemently against Italian wine (we aren’t friends anymore), I suggest trying to find a similar red wine flavour profile, not too heavy, higher acid, and fruit forward. Avoid anything too heavy or tannic as it might take away from the pizza.

Exceptions: Meat-loaded pizza can stand up to more full-bodied red wine with tannin.

4. Fresh Seafood Needs Butter and Lemon

No, I don’t mean take a swig of melted butter after every bite of your crab legs (although if this makes you happy, go ahead). What I am referring to is seafood should be paired with a higher acid (lemon/citrus) white wine that has gone through malolactic fermentation (this adds creaminess). Chablis or Cool Climate Chardonnay are excellent options, some Sauvignon Blanc from France are also great matches.

Why not red wine with seafood? The reason red wine doesn’t pair well with seafood is three-fold. The more oily the fish is, the more a red wine will create a metallic after taste in your mouth. Also, some fish are high in umami, which increases bitterness (tannin) in red wine. Finally, a lot of red wine is heavy bodied, and high alcohol, and will over power the delicacy of your seafood.

5. When All Else Fails, Drink the Wine You Like with the Food You Like (and, don’t let anyone tell you differently)

Food and wine pairing is a very personal experience. There isn’t one right answer (although I will argue with anyone who doesn’t agree with my Italian wine and pizza tip). A person’s perceptions of sugar, acid or bitterness are subjective. I always use the example of sweet and salty food combinations, not everyone likes that combination in their mouth all at once. Or, how you drink your coffee- some like it sweet and creamy, others like it black and strong. The same ideas goes for wine and food, if you find a wine and food pairing that works for you, then go for it!

Want to learn more about wine? Why not host a wine event with your friends, co-workers or family? For more information about wine, food and the good life, follow me on Instagram @NewAgeNonna or subscribe to my Blog.

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