Wine and Food Pairing – Part 3

In Part 1 and 2 of my “5 Part series on Wine/Food Pairing” we discussed Rule #1 – Balance and Rule #2 – Dominant Flavor. Next we will examine Rule #3 – Think Your Senses. There are 3 top sensations you should be aware of when you pair food and wine. They are acidity, tannins and sugar.

Acidity is present in both food and wine. In food, the best way to describe acidity is to think tomatoes…we all know that taste sensation. Acidity is also found in wine, primarily white wines. This is the crisp, refreshing feeling in your mouth, and what makes your mouth salivate. When pairing a wine with tomatoes, your wine should “stand up” to the acidity, and red wines are the number 1 choice for this pairing. Full-bodied reds such as Barbera, Sangiovese, Merlot or even a Zinfandel are excellent choices. If your wine does not “stand up” to the acidity level, it will feel bland or flabby in your mouth. For white wines, Sauvignon Blanc, a dry Riesling or a Chenin Blanc make excellent choices.

So we’ve all heard about tannins, but what are they really? Tannins are naturally found in the skins and seeds (pips) of grapes. Because red grapes are fermented with their skins, tannins appear in red wines. The winemaker also has a hand in how much/how little tannin will finally occur in the wine based on the length of time the grapes are fermented with their skins as well as the type of grape(s) the winemaker is using. Example – Cabernet Sauvignon grapes have thick skins, therefore naturally the wine will have more tannins. Pinot Noir grapes have thin skins, therefore providing less natural tannins.

While acidity makes our mouth water, it is the tannins that make our mouth pucker or feel dry. A high tannin wine can be an excellent choice when pairing it with a food that contains protein (red meat as an example), fats or salt. Who hasn’t heard the pairing of a Cabernet Sauvignon with a steak?? For something different, try a Cabernet Franc (one of Colorado’s signature grapes) with your next red meat dish!

Have you ever had Champagne with chocolate and wondered why it didn’t pair well?? The answer lies in the sugar, both in the wine and in the food.  Most Americans drink a dry, brut Champagne and are missing the understanding of  Rule #3 and sugar, which is….”your wine should always be as sweet as your dessert.”  Keeping that rule in mind, a late-harvest wine, fruit wine, ice wine or port pair very well with dessert.

Colorado makes great late-harvest wines because the growers can keep the grapes on the vines longer to increase the brix (sugar content) in the grapes. Colorado also makes excellent fruit wines (wine made from fruit such as cherries, peaches, strawberries instead of grapes). Ice wine is very popular where I grew up in Niagara Falls, NY. Across the border in the Niagara Peninsula, they are famous for their ice wine, where the grapes actually have to be picked frozen to be called a true ice wine. BTW, commercial freezers work well when you can’t freeze them on the vines! And don’t forget one of my favorites…port-style wines (only wine from Portugal can be called a “Port”), as nothing says “dessert” like something chocolate with a port!

So think your senses and enjoy wine/food pairings following rule #3!

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