Last weekend, I attended the Decanter Fine Wine Encounter in London where we have been showing our latest vintages. As always, I find this a wonderful opportunity to meet wine enthusiasts that are not necessarily in the wine trade – people who really enjoy food and wine for what they are.
It made me think of a blog a read some time ago, Karl du Fresne’s Hype over food and wine too hard to digest. He calls himself a recovering wine and food writer and explains leaving the industry behind with: “At some indeterminable point during the past decade, the business of wine and food moved beyond the simple appreciation of eating and drinking.”
That there is much more written and said about food and wine is a fact. Some chefs and winemakers are writing their own books, they star in television shows, have identities on social media and have reached celebrity status. And while I am in the industry and enjoy trying new trends and staying up to date via all the media platforms, I do get what Karl refers to as well. Sometimes it should really only be about enjoying food and wine.
So, just back from one of the most cosmopolitan food cities, London, I am today heading to Zastron, a small agricultural town in South Africa’s Free State province, to talk about food and wine! And that is the beauty for me, food and wine are enjoyed everywhere and in so many forms! While we might enjoy trying the cuisine of a renowned restaurant and an acclaimed chef, the love of all things culinary also extends to cooking a steak on an open fire and pairing it with a good glass of red.
So, today, in Zastron, I will be sharing some things to consider when pairing food and wine – whether it is fine dining or a home-cooked meal.
1. The weight of the dish is very important, if the food is heavy then the wine should be heavy, otherwise one will overpower the other. The weight in wine describes the sensation on the palate of fullness or “heaviness” in a wine. Protein-rich foods, fatty foods and salt can counteract full-bodied, wines with more tannins. So serve full bodied wines with big, robust flavoured foods. A slow cooked Beef Bourguignon is heavy with flavour and texture and will make for a beautiful combination with a Bordeaux-style red blend with tannins and complex flavours. Such a wine will however also work with a grilled steak as the charred flavour adds richness of the dish. Also take in mind the sauce you serve. A wine reduction will have a different effect to the taste combination than a creamy mushroom or spicy pepper sauce.
2. Flavour intensity or degree of flavour is very important as a dish may be quite heavily spiced but quite light in weight. The principle flavours in your meal should be reflected in your wine. When you are serving a wine with smoky aromas, adding a smoky flavour to your food will enhance the wine. Also think of Thai or Japanese dishes. You will have to pair something that is equally spicy but light at the same time. The same with spicy food like Indian curries and sweeter Cape Malay curries, do try fruitier styles such as Viognier, Riesling or even Gewürztraminer.
3. Thirdly you should look at the different taste sensations:
Sweetness: Should be either matched or over compensated for, if not the wine will taste bitter or sour. The general believe is that sweet foods should be paired with sweet wines. This is true in most of the cases because sweet wines tend to take on a little sourness or bitterness when paired with foods with less sweetness. Natural Sweet Wines with a fine balance of acidity do have so much more to offer though in terms of food and wine pairing
Acidity: Comes in the form of lemon, citrus fruits vinegar or reduced white wine in a sauce. So the wine needs to echo the food. The higher the acidity the more it will decrease the sourness and make it tastes much sweeter and mellower. The basic principle here is that the acidity in the food needs to match the acidity in the wine. Here the acidity in the wine plays a critical role in the ability to pair it with food.
Bitterness: Bitterness is usually extracted from foods during cooking so for instance food char-grilled or even vegetables such as asparagus, rocket or chicory. These bitter flavours will enhance the bitter flavours in wine so therefore the best type of wine to pair with this one will be one with good acidity.
Salt: Can have a big impact on the wine. A classic combination will be salt/sweet styles so for instance figs with prosciutto or melon with Parma ham. Sometimes salty foods can actually make the wine taste sweeter. Salt also loves acidity. Think Champagne and caviar!
Umami: Is a Japanese word meaning my deliciousness, relish-like or something savoury. It was a word though up by the Japanese in 1907 and it basically covers the sensation of how you enjoy your food. So for instance the sweetness you get from prawns or the more unusual taste of marmite or Bovril.
4. The nature of food is enhanced by either matching or contrasting the texture of the wine. This texture can range from smooth, soft and velvety to fresh, crisp, zesty, vibrant and acidic.
So whether you want to be on top of the latest in culinary arts or prefer the comfort of a family cook-along, the perfect food and wine match creates a taste experience that is greater than that of the food and wine alone. In the end, there is a thin line between being a fashionable foody and really enjoying food and wine