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Food & Wine Basics

The Food and Wine combinations that most of us grew up with were the 'red wine with beef' and 'white wine with fish or poultry' rules.  Since then, we've heard "any wine as long as you like it".  In fact,  you should drink the wine you like but understand that the traditional rules are based on centuries of experience.  Once you understand the simple logic you will be able to confidently match foods and wines.

A good food and wine match is an evenly matched struggle for your palate .  The first bite of the food should be delicious.  The first sip of the wine should be equally enjoyable and it should replace the taste of the food.  With the next bite of food, the flavors are fresh again it should be as wonderful as the first bite.  If the match is good, each bite of  food replaces the taste of the wine and each sip of wine replaces the taste of the food.  In a poor match, one is so dominant that it is all that is tasted through the meal.

Most of what we take for taste, is actually a result of our sense of smell.  A typical person can differentiate (on average) about 9,000 different aromas.  Even those of us with a poor sense of smell can identify more than 3000 aromas.  If you tried to create wine and food matches using all the possible flavors/aromas found in the wine and in the food, you'd need a supercomputer to test all the possibilities.  Fortunately, good food and wine combinations can be found much more easily. 

Our sense of taste is much more focused than our sense of smell.  You can actually taste (on the tongue) only four things:  Sweetness, Acidity, Bitterness and Saltiness.  Unless you're drinking cooking sherry, you will not come across salt in wines.   By working with the other three tastes (sweetness, acidity and bitterness) and their presence in the foods and wines we are matching, we can create very good pairings.

The surest and easiest way to match foods with wines is to look for sweetness, acidity or bitterness in the food and serve wines that have the same characterisics.  For instance, if your food item has an element of sweetness, your wine should also be sweet.  Otherwise, the wine will seem sour.  If your dish has bitterness (like the char on a steak) then the best match will be a wine that has bitterness (from tannins in red wines).  When it comes to acidity, it is easier to think of foods that benefit from the addition of acidity when selecting wines.  If you would consider squeezing lemon on a dish (like seafood) then you would want to match that dish with a wine that has higher acid content.

White wines with high acid include : Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, White Bordeaux and almost all sparkling wines.  These wines usually pair well with most seafood. 

Red Wines with high acid levels include:  Pinot Noir (including Red Burgundys), Sangiovese (including Chiantis) and Gamay (including Beaujolais)   These wines are usually very good pairings with grilled seafood and with most red sauces (tomato based).

White wines that have an amount of sweetness include:  Most German wines, Vouvray, Chenin Blanc, Asti Spumante and many Rieslings.  White Zinfandel is a pink wine the has sweetness and high acidity.

Red wines with an amount of sweetness include:  Lambrusco and Port (very sweet)

Red wines with bitterness include:  Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Red Bordeaux and red Zinfandel.