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Basic Principles of Successful Food and Wine Pairing

The main rule to remember about pairing wine with food is that you should drink what you like.  With that in mind here are some basic guidelines to follow.

Match the weight & texture of the food to the weight & texture of the wine

A light-bodied fish like sole works best with a light-bodied white wine like pinot grigio, while a heavier-bodied fish like salmon calls for a richer, fuller-bodied white like chardonnay or a medium bodied red like pinot noir.

Think about the intensity of flavors in the food and wine.  Match mild foods with mild wines.  Match big flavorful foods with big flavorful wines.

A mildly flavored food like roast turkey pairs well with light-bodied white and red wines like sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot noir and beaujolais, On the other hand if turkey is part of a Thanksgiving dinner featuring stuffing, cranberry sauce, and other strongly flavored side dishes, an intensely flavored white like gewürztraminer or a rich, fruity red like syrah or zinfandel may be preferable.

Balance the tastes

The five basic  tastes are sweet, sour, salt, bitter and umami ( found in savory foods like mushrooms, tomatoes, soy sauce, and aged cheeses and meats). Salty and sour tastes in food makes wines taste milder while sweet and savory (umami) tastes make wines taste stronger.

For example: If you’re eating a sweet desert dish with a cabernet.  The cabernet may taste very strong, even bitter.  On the other hand if you are eating a seasoned prime rib roast with a light pinot grigio, the wine will be overpowered, tasting washed out or flavorless.  The goal here is to find the food/wine pairing that leaves the taste of the wine close to the winemaker’s original intention.

Match flavors

Flavors are combinations of tastes and aromas, and there are an endless number of them. You can fine-tune food and wine pairings by matching flavors in the food and the wine.  Roast duck in a plum sauce is well-served by red wines, like barbera or syrah, with pronounced black plum flavors while grilled steak in a pepper sauce will go beautifully with a peppery zinfandel.

Wine and Strong Spices

When enjoying foods with strong spices such as Indian food, Chinese food, Jamaican Jerk, etc. you do not want to match flavors.  The best choice for these types of foods is a fruity wine like Riesling, gewürztraminer or moscato.

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