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Our pairing primer will help you make quick work of finding fabulous food matches for eight styles of wine. (5 min. read)
In Europe, wine is considered a part of the meal. In North America, it’s seen as something to be enjoyed with the meal. A razor-fine distinction perhaps, but one that’s created a sense of mystery around what wine to serve with what food at many a dinner table. Read on for some basic pairing principles for different wine styles to help guide your choices.
These are wines with mouth-watering acidity and a snappy, dry, overall refreshing character.
Many Italian white wines such as Soave and Pinot Grigio fall into this thirst-quenching group, as do Vinho Verde, Pinot Blanc and unoaked cool-climate Chardonnay like Chablis. Their bright acidity, delicate floral notes and flavours such as apple, lime and lemon make them superb sipping wines as well as fine companions for seafood dishes or poached chicken.
This group includes such notables as Sauvignon Blanc, Torrontés, Viognier, Riesling and Gewürztraminer.
They have more intensely defined aromas and flavours than Light & Crisp whites. Their zesty, food-friendly acidity and more robust flavour profiles allow them to match with a broader range of foods including fish, chicken, pork and salads. Though most are dry, some, such as Riesling and Gewürztraminer, can be made in sweeter styles and are good pairing options for spicier foods.
When people talk about full-bodied white wines, nine times out of 10 they mean oaked Chardonnay.
But there are others, such as the Rhône blends comprising Roussanne, Grenache Blanc and Marsanne, that also qualify, as well as some Viogniers. These are wines that have more noticeable texture and weight in the mouth and are better suited for rich, buttery foods. Think pork, lobster, salmon or roast chicken.
Sparkling wines are great with food.
Their bubbles provide a gorgeous textural contrast to the meal and their bright, fresh acidity cuts through fatty and oily dishes. Dry sparkling wines are great between bites, refreshing your palate and getting you ready to enjoy the next mouthful of anything from fish to a turkey dinner with all the trimmings. Sparklers made in a sweeter style are ideal pairings for fresh fruit, chocolate, or charcuterie-and-cheese platters.
Rosés are capable of playing a lead role in any meal in any season.
Crafted from your favourite red wine grapes but lighter coloured due to their shorter maceration period (measured in hours rather than days or weeks), rosés are tasty bridges between the vibrancy of white wines and the structured intensity of reds. They’re delicate enough to pair with summer salads but can stand up to such fare as pork chops or grilled salmon.
When assessing a wine’s weight, you’re considering the wine’s mouthfeel, body and texture.
High acidity can create a lighter feel, while higher alcohol produces a heavier impression. The combination of high acidity and moderate alcohol makes medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir, Sangiovese and Tempranillo exceptionally food-friendly. They’re the perfect choice when you’re looking for a wine to serve at a meal featuring a variety of foods and are ideal for roast meats, poultry, and even meatier fish such as salmon.
Full-bodied wines have a rich mouthfeel and pronounced, complex flavours.
Their intensity will overpower meals with more delicate flavours, so these wines call for boldly flavoured, hearty fare such as steak, lamb and mushrooms. Tannins are a prominent feature of full-bodied reds. Wines such as Merlot, Syrah and Zinfandel can have high levels of velvety tannins, while Cabernet Sauvignon will have a prominent, more grippy, drying feel. The process of re-fermenting on tannin-laden dried grape skins introduces higher tannin levels to reds such as Valpolicella Ripasso Superiore.
Port is perhaps the most well-known of sweet wines and is usually served as an aperitif, or as a dessert wine alongside nibbles such as blue cheese, nuts or dried fruit.
LBV Ports have a weight and richness that makes them ideal partners for chocolate cake. Sweet white wines such as Sauternes or Late-Harvest Riesling are also great with desserts, but their high acidity provides the balance for savoury dishes, too. Similar to medium-sweet whites such as those crafted from Riesling, Gewürztraminer or Chenin Blanc, sweet white wines can make excellent pairings for spicy dishes. The sugars in the wine offset the heat from the food and also enhance the flavours of the dishes’ individual ingredients.
Here’s a quick guide:
• It’s best if the wine is more acidic than the food. This is especially important when pairing with tomato dishes, or salads with vinegar-based dressings.
• Similarly, the wine you serve should taste sweeter than the food. Wines that are designated XD (extra dry) tend to be lower in sugar but their bold, ripe fruit flavours will still give you that sweet-fruit sensation.
• Bold, robustly flavoured meals should be paired with bold, robust wines.
• Delicately flavoured foods should be paired with equally delicate or lighter-styled wines.
• Creamy sauces require a full-bodied white wine with high acidity, like Chardonnay, or a medium-bodied red such as Sangiovese.
• A big part of enjoying wine is experimentation, so if you want a meal to go with that Bordeaux blend or dry Riesling, check out what the locals pair their wines with in Bordeaux or Alsace.
Serve wines at the correct temperature:
• Chill sparkling and white wines for 2-3 hours in the fridge or 20-30-minutes in an ice bucket.
• Chill rosé for 1.5 hours in the fridge or 15 minutes in an ice bucket.
• Chill medium-bodied reds for 60-90 minutes in the fridge or 10-15 minutes in an ice bucket.
• Even full-bodied reds can benefit from chilling. They should be served at around 18°C. On a hot evening or in a warm dining room, you might want to pop them into an ice bucket for 10 minutes.
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