A: Pairing wine with food is a highly personal exercise and, with experience, everyone who enjoys eating and drinking will discover which matches work best. However, if you are ready to set out on a gastronomical adventure and don’t know where to start, there are some basic guidelines you can follow…
1. Pair regional dishes and wine. For centuries, traditional European countries have planted certain grape varieties and developed particular wine styles to go with their cuisine. It is no coincidence that Piedmontese classics like risotto with shaved white truffles go with Barbaresco, for instance. In the New World, we are just starting to discover the local possibilities. Something just feels right about drinking an Okanagan Pinot Noir with BC wild salmon, doesn’t it?
2. Match the weight of the wine with the weight and intensity of the food. One shouldn’t overpower the other. Bold red wines stand up to heavy red meats and full-flavoured dishes while light whites are better partners for simply adorned white meats and delicate fish. Something in between, like a seared Ahi tuna might be perfect with a medium-bodied red. Keep in mind that cooking method such as roasting, grilling or poaching will affect both the weight and flavour of the food.
3. Complement the flavours in the dish with the wine. You can think of the wine’s flavours in the same way you might think of a sauce or an accompaniment to your main dish. For instance, if you normally squeeze some lemon on your chicken schnitzel, try a tangy Riesling with lots of citrus aromas as a match. Wild berries and game are nice contrasts so why not have a rich blueberry scented Zinfandel with your next bison burger?
4. Consider the reactions between the structural elements in both the food and wine. Chemical and physical reactions between the food and wine can enhance or detract from your experience. Acidity (perceived as sourness) is present in all wines and is essential to refreshing the palate after bites of food. High acid foods like tomato sauce, goat’s cheese and citrus will decrease the perception of sourness in wine, so you will want to pick a wine with lots of juicy acidity like a Chianti or Sauvignon Blanc. On the other hand, sweetness in food can make wine taste even more sour. When finding a match for dessert, therefore, it is a good idea to find a wine that is sweeter than the dish. The tannins in red wine have a favourable reaction with protein, which actually binds with them, causing them to soften. This is one of the reasons a very tannic young red is a great match with steak. And finally, keep in mind that alcohol is perceived as heat on the palate, so it is best to pair very spicy cuisine with lighter alcohol wines. German Riesling is a natural choice!