It can seem on a wine tour that each mouthful of food is picked to bring out the best in each sip, so just what is the secret of successful pairing?
If you’ve ever been on our luxury wine tour along the Canal du Midi then, whether you know it or not, you will have encountered the art of food and wine pairing.
As you sat down to your introductory four-course meal and enjoyed some of the region’s finest varieties, you may not even have noticed how each flavour complimented the other but that is, in fact, the mark of a great pairing.
The idea behind pairing is to bring out the delicious, subtle flavours of both the drink and the meal but, for most of us, choosing which can best create this delicate balancing act can be a little bit daunting.
We all know the old adage about whites with fish and reds with meat but, firstly these are not hard and fast rules, and secondly, it rather misses the subtlety required for a really good pairing.
So Are There Any Rules?
The great news is that there aren’t any hard and fast rules to pairing. It’s about considering the flavours and richness of your food and trying to find varieties which will complement it.
Although there are no rules, there are some key things to consider which will keep you on the right track:
Weight – Think about the ‘weight’ of your meal. If it features heavy red meat, warming winter stews or bowls of pasta then you’ll need an equally heavy drink to accompany it. This is why these dishes are usually served with a robust red. If, however, you prefer a white then don’t fret, these dishes are better matched with a full-bodied white than a light red. Equally, if you are serving a lighter dish like fish or chicken, then a lighter variety is required; whether you choose a delicate white or low-tannin red is up to you.
Intensity – The strength of flavours is also something you should consider. A dish such as mashed potatoes can be heavy but the strength of flavour may be light, so think about what will go with both elements. Think about sauces: fish is a light food but may come in a strong sauce – in this case match the wine to the sauce. A strong flavour could work well with a Riesling which is light but has an intense flavour. Chardonnay on the other hand is a heavy wine with a light flavour.
Tannins – One of the secrets of pairing is that the more texture the food has to it, the more tannin the accompanying wine can have. Therefore reds rich in tannins work well with chewy or fatty foods like lamb and duck.
Acidity – Varieties that are more acidic, surprisingly, work well with acidic food because the flavours match. They are also good at cutting through fatty foods like smoked salmon or rabbit. If you’ve ever been on a wine tour of Italy you will have noticed how many of the Italian reds like Chianti and Montepulciano are acidic – this is so they can cut through the olive oil-rich diet.
Sweetness – Have you ever wondered why pudding wines are so sweet? Well the answer is that in pairing, the variety you choose should be sweeter than whatever you are eating. Therefore if what you’re eating is sweet, the wine must be sweeter. Sweetness can also be used to balance very rich foods.
Now that you know the basic guidelines to pairing, next time you take a wine tour and enjoy a gastronomic treat like the feast that awaits our guests on the Athos, you’ll be able to spot exactly why each bottle is served with each course. And then, perhaps, you’ll feel confident enough to go home and try a bit of wine pairing out on your friends.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider if you're looking for an all-inclusive, luxury wine tour barge holiday in France or other great destinations. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
Written by Lisa Jeeves