Foods from specific regions, or those created by particular cultures or ethnic groups, can have strong and unique flavors. These can range from rich and earthy to hot and spicy. Pairing regional wines with food from the same geographic area helps ensure complementary flavors. Cuisines with flavor profiles that make wine and food pairings challenging can be matched with wines that complement their strong ingredients and seasonings.
When Pairing Wines, Look Local
Traditional regional cuisines and the wines of those regions evolved together over the course of centuries. Some traditional dishes have a particular wine as an ingredient; pair the same wine with the food for cohesive flavors. For example, match Italian wine with Italian food, as the traditional cuisine of Italy has evolved over time to accentuate the qualities of the wines available in the region.
Some regions produce a variety of both wines and traditional dishes. When pairing regional wines in this case, keep in mind the flavor bridges between the wine and the food (spice, acid, etc.), and how these flavors will mirror or complement one another. The overall weight of the dish is another important factor to ensure balance in your meal. Bold foods will benefit from bold wines, whereas lighter fare calls for a wine with a more delicate flavor.
Pairings for Strongly Flavored Ethnic Foods
Some regional or ethnic foods are difficult to pair with wines. Strong spices often have a numbing effect on the palate, and wine’s delicate or complex flavors cannot be enjoyed fully. For example, Indian or Mexican foods can be highly spiced. Finding wine for sushi can be a challenge as well, especially if you enjoy the dish with hot wasabi.
Follow a few basic guidelines to pair wine with boldly flavored foods. Avoid strong, dry wines (particularly red wines) when eating spicy foods; tannins in the wine can intensify the heat of spicy dishes. If you are set on pairing these spicy foods with wine, a slightly sweet and acidic wine, like Riesling, can balance the spice. Riesling’s low alcohol content will also help you to avoid spiking the heat of an already spicy dish.