Wine pairing is the subject of much debate, and if you’ve reached this page you are probably looking to avoid a scenario where you make a faux pas that could have easily been avoided by just reading up how to do wine pairing from the Culinary Cook!
We’ll do our best to teach you about the various wine pairing that are available to you, including how to select the proper wine, what ingredients to pair it to that will hopefully help you avoid a potential disaster. The first thing we’ll do is start with the basics. Most of this information we covered in our original post that goes into a bit more depth on the various types. If you would like to read up on more, feel free to check it out.
Red wine is made from crushed grapes, typically black skinned grapes, to create what’s called a must. This must is then transferred to a fermentation tank and is fermented. Stainless steel tanks create a crisper red wine, while oak casks are used for a more mellow product.
As the red wine ferments, grape the grapes release tannins, which give most red wines their distinctive and slightly bitter taste. Some vintners keep the stems inside the must.
When it comes to white wine, grape skins such from grapes such as white-skinned and occasionally black-skinned grapes are passed through a wine press, where the juice is separated. For white wine, the skins are removed allowing only the juice to be fermented. If you are making a rose wine or a blush wine, the grape skins are left in cotact with the juice just long enough to add color.
Sparkling wines undergo a complete second fermentation process where carbon dioxide is generated which gives the wine it’s sparkling wine its effervescence.
For Champagne and sparkling wine made like champagne (Champagne can only be called champagne if produced in the region of Champagne in France) differs in that the second fermentation process is done in the bottle and requires this to be done for one to two years.
Regular wines usually have an alcohol content of about 10 – 15%. Fortified wines have had their alcohol content increased to 18 – 22% by the addition of neutral grape spirits or grape brandy being made from the same grapes.
Port is the only majorly significant fortified wine made from red wine. Port is traditionally produced in the Duoro Valley of Portugal from a blend of five red wine varieties. Ports come in three categoriesL Tawny port are less fruity and are mellower and more subtle and are aged in casks sometimes up to 30 years. Vintage are typically the most exceptional and finest ports and are aged in their bottles. Ruby are lesser quality ports that are a blend of other ports and have a crimson color with a smooth sweet fruity flavor.
A fortified wine from the Jerez region of Spain, it is made by an extremely complicated process. The result is one of 6 types: Manzanilla, Fino, Amontillado, Oloroso, Amoroso, or Cream Sherry, all of which we will cover in a more in depth article.
Pairing Wine and Food
Traditionally most red wines were served with only beef, veal, pork and lamb while white wines with fish, shellfish and poultry. You’ll find that this rule may still be true for many pairings, but don’t be afraid to ignore it once and a while. For example, it’s fine to use a wine pairing with a strong oaky Chardonnay with grilled beef or a highly acidic red such as Sangiovese (Chianti), Pinot Noir or Beaujolais with fish or shellfish. In the end, it’s not tradition that matters most. It’s what completes the experience the best.
- Sweet. Dishes with sweet elements are often great with a wine pairing of sweet or slightly sweet wines. The sweetness of one will compliment the other. If the same dish were served with a dry wine, the sweetness in the dish could contrast the wine and make it taste a bit sour. Because dessert wines are so sweet they are often difficult to make a wine pairing with any food. Something like a Sauternes will, however, complement the fatty richness of foie gras or lobster with a rich cream sauce.
- Sour. If you are serving a dish that is heavy with citrus, such as lemon, it is best to use a wine pairing that is acidic. Wines with high acid content usually taste less acidic when paired with salty or sweet foods.
- Salty. Salty foods benefit greatly enhance the fruitiness of a wine and mute the sweetness. For wine pairing, use a sweet wine
- Bitter. It is important to be careful when wine pairing a wine high in tannins such as Syrah or Cabernet Sauvignon with a food equally rich in tannins such as walnuts. The combination will amplify the bitterness making it almost unbearably bitter, dry, and astringent. Yuck!
- Umami. The richer the food, the more robust the wine would be needed to complement it.
Be mindful to know where the dish you are making is from as the origin of the dish usually has an affinity for the origin and region of the wine. Cheeses or other food from the Loire Valley of France are great wine pairing and do exceptionally well with wines from that region, such as Sancerre (Sauvignon Blanc) or Chenin Blanc.
Dessert Wine Pairing
The principles of dessert / wine pairing are easily understood. There are only three things that you need to consider when wine pairing sweet wines with desserts
- The sweetness of the wine is relative to the sweetness of the dessert.
- The weight of the wine is relative to the mouth-feel of the dessert
- The flavors of the wine are relative to the flavors of the dessert
Never pair a wine that is sweeter than the dessert you are serving as it will make the wine taste harsh and overly tart
Creamy, rich, and mouthfilling texture of desserts should be served with vines of equal qualities. If the wine is too light, the mouth-feel will taste watery relative to the mouth-feel of the dessert. The reverse is also true. A light tasting dessert will be overwhelmed with a overly rich-tasting wine.
Oh, and I think it goes without saying that if you want to use wines for cooking flavoring, do not get anything labelled “Cooking wine”, as they are always inferior products.