Matching Food and Wine

Choosing a wine to go with a meal used to be relatively easy. You drank white with fish and red with meat and that was that. But now that the range of wines available is so vast and we’re exposed to so many different and exotic kinds of food, life is a lot more complicated.

A lot of people say it doesn’t matter and that you should drink what you like, which is fine if you’re eating on your own. But if you’re entertaining, you have to take account of other people’s tastes and there aren’t too many people who enjoy medium-dry white wine with steak.

Two of the old rules that still make a lot of sense are to serve lighter wines before full-bodied ones and drier wines before sweeter — after all, you wouldn’t dream of starting a dinner party with a pudding. But more important than the old ‘white with fish’ and ‘red with meat’ rule is the style of the food you’re serving.

Whether a dish is based on meat, fish or vegetables, ask yourself what is the most important influence on it. Is it the flavoring, ingredients or the way it’s cooked? To take fish as an example, if it was curried or cooked in a garlicky provençal sauce, the most important factor would be the origin of the dish and the flavor of seasoning ingredients. If, on the other hand, your fish was chargrilled or fried, the cooking method might be the more important influence.

While, for instance, you probably wouldn’t want to serve a fruity red wine with a seafood salad, it would be great with a  piece of pan seared salmon. You need to think about the overall weight of the dish and select your wine accordingly Is it a light and fresh dish or is it rich and heavy?

If you find it difficult at first, as everyone does, just think of wine as adding an extra ingredient, as you would when you’re cooking. If you cook fried fish you often add a squeeze of lemon. Well, a crisp citrusy white works in exactly the same way.

The logic behind chocolate and sweet red wine, for example, makes sense when you think of the classic chocolate and cherry combination of Black Forest Gâteau. Think of the fruit flavors and imagine how they’d work with the dish you’re planning to serve.

You can also affect the way a wine tastes by the food you pair it with. Oaky wines, for example, taste less oaky when you drink them with roasted or grilled meat (particularly if it’s slightly underdone). Slightly sharp white wines taste less tart with high acid foods such as tomato or salads. Sweet wines can taste almost dry if you partner them with a very sweet dessert (which is why your wine should he sweeter than your pudding).

Wine affects the taste of food. Wines with a high level of acidity — crisp whites or light fruity reds — can cut through rich or slightly fatty foods such as pâté or rich pasta dishes, making them seem less heavy.

The other important thing to remember is that the more that’s going on the plate, the bolder your wine flavors need to be to stand up to it. So if you’re serving a particularly fine wine and want to do it justice, keep the food as simple and unfussy as possible.

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