5 Easy Tips to Help You Pair Food with Wine

Ever ate something really spicy then washed it down with a nice warm Coke?

I can still painfully remember my first childhood food and drink pairing lesson. Hmm…guess this explains why I hated Chemistry.

Flash forward…

In reality, not everything goes well together, regardless of how much you might love it!

Making an unwise food and drink pairing decision will impact the overall taste and flavor experience of your meal.

This being said, who am I to tell you which wine to pair with your meal?? Drink what you like, when you like, is probably the first lesson you’ll learn from anyone that knows anything about wine. Can’t say I disagree, but like with anything in life, a few common sense guidelines never hurt. Hey, it’s why we don’t wear our pajamas to work…right? Right?

SO HELP ME ALREADY?!

Firstly, start thinking about wine like food…

Still with me?

Enter Acids and Tannins…

What are Acids?

Acids are important components of winemaking that influence: color, balance, taste and preservation. They add sharpness to a wine’s flavor and can be described as that prickly, mouthwatering sensation you feel on your tongue whenever you drink wine. Kinda zingy and tart, like sucking on lemon, or lime.

A wine with too much acidity will taste excessively sour and sharp. A wine with too little acidity will taste flabby and flat, with less defined flavor.

What are Tannins?

In winemaking, tannins are natural chemical compounds found in grape skins, stems, seeds and even the wine barrel itself, particularly if it’s a new one. Tannins affect the color, texture, structure and preservation of a wine. How can you identify them? Think that pleasantly bitter, drying, puckering feeling that rolls down the middle of your tongue almost coating your mouth when you drink wine. Similar in sensation to what you experience when drinking tea that’s been steeped for way too long.

WHY SHOULD I CARE ABOUT TANNINS AND ACIDS IN WINE PAIRING?

Pairing Tip #1: Acids love Acid

When it comes to pairing, try the ‘Acids love acid’ theory as a first rule of thumb. If you think a squeeze of lemon, or lime would take a dish to the next level i.e. Roasted snapper – it’s very likely that dish will pair well with a wine that is more on the acidic side. Again, acids love acid.

Pairing Tip #2: Tannins love fat

As a second rule of thumb, try the ‘Tannins love fat’ theory. If a dish has some fat i.e. Rib-eye steak, it’s very likely it will pair well with a wine that is more on the tannic side. Why? Because fats help balance and soften tannins. Easy right?

So, if you’ve got fat – pair with wines that have higher tannic levels!

Want more?

Here are some other great pairing rules of thumb!

OTHER PAIRING RULES OF THUMB

Pairing Tip #3: Dominant Flavor is King

Whites with fish; reds with meat? We’ve all heard this at some point. It’s not a great tip. Why? Because we rarely just eat meat, or fish without some form of preparation: sauces, stews, stir-fries, casseroles etc…You need to factor in the overall dominant flavor of the dish as a whole, and not just it’s main meat, or vegetable component.

Pairing Tip #4: Spicy loves Sugar

For anyone that knows food and loves to cook, this one is a bit of a no-brainer. When something is spicy, we can temper and mellow those flames with sugar. Same principle would apply to wine pairing. Go for a slightly sweeter wine with those hot and spicy dishes.

Pairing Tip #5: Sweet loves Sweeter

Lastly, when it comes to deserts, which are generally sweet, go for a wine that is even sweeter. It will greatly enhance the richness and flavor of the dish and the wine!

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How To Tell If Your Wine Is Corked

WHAT IS A CORKED WINE?

A “corked” wine is a wine that has become tainted by the presence of TCA (trichloroanisole), rendering it pretty much undrinkable, unless of course you’re into the aromas and flavors of damp cardboard, or a wet dog?

HOW DOES A WINE BECOME CORKED? 

TCA, or Trichloroanisole is a natural by-product of a common airborne fungus (found in corks) and is formed when this fungi comes in contact with certain chlorides typically found in bleaches and other winery sanitation/sterilization products.

TCA can be transferred from the cork to the wine, or through the cork to the wine.

Studies have shown that between 7-8% of wines bottled with natural cork can fall victim to cork taint.

IS IT SAFE TO DRINK CORKED WINE?

Good news! Though the intended aromas and flavors of a “corked” wine are significantly impaired, and in most cases the wine is pretty darn unpalatable, drinking a “corked” wine is harmless.

HOW TO DETECT A CORKED WINE

Follow these three common sense rules of thumb and you’ll be sitting pretty:

Rule 1: If it smells bad, don’t drink it

If it smells like damp cardboard, a wet dog or musty sweaters – don’t drink it! It’s probably “corked”. And NO, don’t smell the cork! It’s a myth! Smell the wine instead! Smelling the cork is no indication of a tainted wine. The only indication a cork can provide is: (a) whether the wine was stored properly, (b) who produced it and (c) the vintage year.

Rule 2: If it tastes bad, stop drinking it

This one is a bit of a no brainer. If you don’t like the taste of something, why would you continue drinking it?! Now, this may not necessarily mean that the wine is “corked”, but if it does taste like damp cardboard, it probably is!

Rule 3: Always ask questions

Don’t be shy. If you have questions, or suspect a wine may be “corked”, speak up! Have it changed immediately. Most fine retailers and restaurants will graciously exchange a bottle, or glass of wine that appears to be “corked”.

How To Taste Wine in 4 Basic Steps

So, everyone has their methods for tasting wine. Some good and some, not so good…

Well, fear not my friends, just follow these 4 basic guidelines and you’ll be well on your way to wine tasting stardom, or at least a friendlier seat in the tasting room.

1. Color (Look)
2. Nose (Smell)
3. Palate (Taste)
4. Finish (Aftertaste)

Or C.N.P.F as we like to abbreviate it!

1. COLOR (LOOK)

A wine’s color can give a good indication of its age and the quality of its winemaking.

How to evaluate color

1. Fill the glass to 1/3 of its capacity
2. Hold the glass up to the light
3. Look at the wine from the rim edges to the middle of the glass. ps. A white backgrounds helps!

What to look for?

Reds – Young reds are frequently bright berry red, or purple. As reds age the color lightens, from dark purple or crimson red to brick or garnet, eventually becoming a brownish tinge.

Whites – Most dry whites are slightly yellow in color. A young white may exhibit pale-yellow-green hues. As it ages it will become a deeper gold, indicating richness and complexity. Dark shades in white wine indicate maturity.

2. SMELL (NOSE)

About 80% of what we taste can be attributed to our sense of smell. In reality, we can only recognize 4 tastes (sweet, sour, salty and bitter) but can smell thousands of scents! Most of a wine’s taste comes from its aroma.

How to evaluate smell

1. Fill the glass to about 1/3 of its capacity
2. Tilt the top of the glass inward (to funnel the aroma)
3. Gently swirl the wine (oxygen encourages the release of aromas)
4. Take a nice whiff. Don’t be afraid to get your nose in there!

What to look for?

Is the aroma intense? Is it faint? Does the scent remind you any foods? Really, there are no hard a fast rules. Just have fun with it! Some common aromas include Earthy, Fruity, Floral, Nutty and Spicy

3. PALATE (TASTE)

Generally speaking a wine’s taste should parallel its aroma.

How to evaluate taste

1. Take a small but comfortable amount in your mouth.
2. Make sure the wine is touching every part of your tongue
3. Try to draw in a bit of air, it helps further release the flavor
4. Let is sit in your mouth for at least 10 seconds
5. Make sure you taste the wine at least twice before judging the flavor

What to look for?

How was the texture? (heavy, or light), Can you taste notes of fruit? Oakiness from the wood? Is it flat (low in acid), or harsh? (too much acid), Is it sweet? Dry? Spicy? Plain? Is it astringent, or bitter? Some common tastes include Cherry, Plum, Raspberry and Pear.

4. FINISH (AFTERTASTE)

A wine’s finish is how long the flavor impression lasts after it is swallowed.

How to evaluate finish

1. Let it sit in your mouth for at least 10 seconds
2. Taste it at least twice
3. Sit back and savor it for at least a minute before judging