5 Steps to Pairing Wine Like a Boss
There’s something hypnotic about wine. The allure of its flavor tapestry and story are all the more enchanting when it happens to be paired with the right food. The right wine can cause your tastebuds to come alive with each sip, so the flavor of your meal becomes historic. And there’s nothing like having the knowledge on tap to pour a glass that will do the trick.
Men all over the world want to have that finesse. You know what finesse I’m talking about – out at a restaurant with a beautiful woman and confidently ordering a bottle of wine that causes each bite to send the two of you into terminal deliciosity. That, and there a few things sexier than being able to order a bottle of wine like a well-traveled man (read: not pronouncing it cab-er-nett), and have that wine make the meal exponentially better. This is pairing wine like a boss.
Humans are pleasure-seeking creatures. We love the taste and smell of things, and those portions of our brains are highly connected to memory and fantasy. The right smell can take us back in time, and the right taste can have us dreaming. When wine and food come together, it can truly be a beautiful thing.
There is, however, a terrible flip-side to this flavor enhancing coin: poor pairings can make the food and the wine both taste like regret. Nobody wins in this game. The wine becomes too bitter, the food gets too bland, suddenly you don’t care about either, and you’re contemplating just ordering a pizza and picking up a 6-pack.
Deep breath. You got this.
Here are 5 steps to pairing wine like a boss. Whether it’s out to dinner or cooking at home, practice your pairing and hone your craft. Your tastebuds will let you know when you’ve got a winner, and when you don’t.
1. Match Weights for a T.K.O.
You’d never pit a featherweight against a heavyweight, would you? No. In the beverage game, weight is referred to as mouthfeel or body – as in, this cabernet has a medium body and slightly bitter finish.” If you’re a beer drinker, you know that a stout like Guinness has a much heavier body than a standard pilsner like Budweiser. In pairing wine with food, you want to match the weight of the meal with the weight of the wine.
Some great examples are a full-bodied Cabernet Sauvignon with a rich, savory cut of red meat; a light, fruity Riesling with a chicken or flaky fish entree; and off-dry whites paired with spicy dishes. (I explain pairing wine with spice a little further down). A good rule of thumb is to pair the weight and color of the wine with the weight and color of the food. There are exceptions to every rule, but this is a pretty solid guideline to follow if you’re not sure where to begin.
2. Acidity is Your Friend
Acidity in wine is a wonderful fat-cutter in food. High acid wines are naturally food-friendly because they cut through oils and fats in heavier meals and act as a palate cleanser for your tongue. The tannins in red wine (Italian Chianti) and the acid in white (French Sauvignon Blanc) help to cut some of the richness out of the food and round out the flavor. While it may sound counterintuitive, it’s not taking away from the flavor of the meal, rather, it’s reducing some of the intensity and adding in some complementary notes.
TIP: Avoid high acidity wine with cream sauces. When you start mixing cream sauces, you’re essentially adding milk to the mix. High acid wine is like squirting lemon juice into a glass of milk. Don’t do that.
TIP: A bold, medium-bodied Chianti pairs very well with tomato dishes, especially pizza. If you are looking for a way to make Papa John’s more appealing to your lady, this might just be it. No guarantees. Seriously, you’re better off making pizza together at home while enjoying a bottle of Chianti. That’s what The Sharp Gentleman recommends.
3. When Spice Kicks Up, Kick Alcohol Down
Trust me, there’s nothing like taking a bite of a spicy dish and then sipping a bold, high alcohol, oaky wine to ruin your mouth for the night. The heat from the food is further exposed when the alcohol from the wine comes crashing into your tastebuds, screaming for attention. You end up hating the meal, and more often than not, hating the wine. When choosing a wine to pair with your spicy food (think peppers, Thai, Cajun), select an off-dry Riesling or light, semi-sweet white to complement. A wine labeled off-dry or demi-sec will pair beautifully with food packing a punch. The natural sugars allow the wine to soothe out the rough edges without taking away from the flavor of the spice.
TIP: Avoid oaky wine when pairing with spicy food. Chardonnay is a fuller white white, and while it can be considerably dry, the oak and acid will work against you when it comes to enjoying your meal.
4. Sweet & Salty are Best Friends
Chocolate-covered pretzels. Think about that for a second. When sweet and salty come together, magic happens. A wonderful example is pairing a semi-sweet riesling or moscato with a dish made with capers, prosciutto, salty fish, or even certain salty vegetables. The flavors come together and balance the pairing beautifully. This is another reason why you might find people pairing salty hors d’oeuvres with light, sweet wines. Everyone enjoys when sweet and salty take to the dance floor.
5. Get Help When Needed
This is really the only step you need. When you’re not sure which wine is the best for your meal, ask the Sommelier at the restaurant or get on the internet and see what others have paired with your meal. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about pairing wine with food – you just need to know how to pronounce a few things, get some general guidelines under your belt, and ask for help when needed. Truth be told, people that love wine love talking about it. Simply asking for help can make your night, and possibly your date, much better than you anticipated.
TIP: You don’t need to know how to pronounce everything. Most menus are designed with the same template: Winemaker, Wine Name, Region, Year. If you can’t pronounce everything, you can almost always ask for the winemaker and year (e.g. 2011 Viader).
Do you have a favorite wine and food pairing? Share in the comments, my friends. And as always, if you found this helpful, please share it with someone so they too can feel helped. Every little bit counts.