Pairing wine and food can make a great meal spectacular, but choosing food and wine pairings can be overwhelming. Many people are aware that certain wines and foods can and should be paired, yet they are unsure of how to do so. Restaurants can have extensive wine lists, and many liquor stores and supermarkets now carry a vast array of different wine varietals at every price point. With some basic guidance and principles, however, you can pair the right wine with food groups and recipes to enhance the flavor of each. Why Pair Your Food and Wine? In the best pairings, the flavor of the wine elevates that of the food, and vice versa; the whole is greater than the sum of the parts. These enhancements are made using flavor connections and contrasts between wine and food, known as “flavor bridges.” The flavors in your wine of choice can mirror those in your food, or complement them. Think of the dominant flavors of your dish, and find a wine with similar or contrasting characteristics. You can also consider the overall “weight” of both the wine and the food to allow each element of the meal to shine equally. For example, pairing a rich, heavy or full-bodied wine with a light dish can make the meal seem out of balance. In some cases, flavors in your food can dull the flavor of your wine, and vice versa. For example, a sweet food can dull the sweetness of a dessert wine, and can make a dry wine appear positively bitter. Even the alcohol content can affect your choices. For example, many spicy foods pair best with wines with lower alcohol content, as alcohol can further intensify their heat. Traditional (and Non-Traditional) Wine Pairing Some of the traditional basics of wine pairing are relatively well-known. For example, many people are familiar with the wine pairing guide of pairing red meats with red wine and white meat with white wine. Though this is true in some cases, a more comprehensive wine pairing guide accounts for a greater number of variables, including flavor nuances in sauces or spices. Finally, remember that few wine and food pairings are truly terrible. Though you will want to consider the flavor profiles and how they work together, be sure to drink what you like. With very few exceptions, you can “break the rules” and still enjoy great flavors.
In a tasting menu, a chef creates a selection of food and wine pairings that showcase a variety of dishes and wines. They may be composed by a vineyard to showcase their collection of wines, or by a restaurant to showcase special menu items. Tasting menus are excellent opportunities to experience connections between wine and food, and to try a variety of wines. What Is a Tasting Menu? Tasting menus can take on a variety of shapes. Sometimes a restaurant tasting menu includes appetizer-sized portions, while others make up a multi-course dinner including appetizer, main dish and dessert. Some tasting menus are themed around a particular ingredient or wine type, while others showcase a wide variety of wines from a single distributor or geographic area. Some restaurants and hotels will host special wine tasting events; these can be multicourse sit-down dinners, or cocktail hours with wine and hors d’oeuvre pairings. Wine Flights Some restaurants or vineyards also offer “flights” of wines. This serving style involves serving a taste (usually about a half glass) of several types of wines. The wines are generally related in some way. For example, you may try a flight of various pinot noir wines from different regions or vineyards, or a variety of wine types from a single vineyard. Wine flight tastings often provide information about the wine’s characteristics and flavor profile. Wine flights may be served with or without accompanying foods. What Can I Learn from Tasting Menus? Tasting menus allow you to try new types of wine without making a commitment; most tasting menus provide only one glass (or a half glass) of each wine with its paired food. Attending a food and wine tasting is a great way for beginners to develop a better understanding of the connections between wines and foods, and see how different wines can have specific flavor-enhancing effects on certain dishes. Trying pairings from a restaurant tasting menu can give you ideas for making food and wine pairings at home, and for ordering wines to go with your dish in a restaurant. You can even host a party at home where you create and serve different food and wine pairings to your friends. Be creative: There are no “perfect” parings, so drink what you like and try new combinations.