Chapter 5 - Pairing Wine & Food 🍕
Chapter 5 - Pairing Wine & Food 🍕

The magic formula of perfect wine and food pairings isn't far away! Learn the most dependable techniques and some of the most famous, classic must-try pairings, PLUS gain the skills to know how to use them in your own kitchen!

Everybody wants to nail the food and wine matching thing, right? Having that magical moment where you can confidently sit down to an incredible meal and just pull out exactly the right wine?

It might seem intimidating, but the magic formula isn't far away! Today we will be guiding you through the most dependable food and wine pairing techniques in the world. We'll also share some of the most famous and classic must-try pairings. Use these exactly as mentioned or take inspiration from them and conquer the food and wine matching world!

Your wine coaches,

Banjo & Alex

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Food is great. Wine is great. So it’s simple, right? All you have to do is pick your favourite foods and pick your favourite wines and you're all set. Not quite. Wines can, of course, enhance the flavours of your meal, and sometimes create truly exceptional flavour experiences. Likewise, they can often clash and destroy your flavour experience. If you’ve ever tried drinking a bottle of Shiraz with a spicy Thai dish, or Cabernet with sushi, then you’ll know what we mean.

...But there are thousands of different foods and wines. That’s a lot of pairings to memorise...

Lucky for us there are three main go-to methods that sommeliers and chefs use to cover almost all their dishes. And today, we are going to give you the knowledge and skills to be a master pair-er yourself too!

Congruent

This is where you match similar flavours so that the flavour part in your mouth is all dancing to the same drumbeat.

ie. a rich Chardonnay with a creamy pasta

Complementary

This is where slightly different flavours combine to create an even greater flavour.

ie. a sweet dessert wine with salty blue cheese

Contrast

This is where you use say the acidity of the wine to cut through the richness of the food - opposite flavours that combine well together.

ie. a tannic Cabernet Sauvignon with a fatty steak

Did you know?

There's a saying when it comes to pairing wine and food, "What grows together goes together". Quite often the famous cuisine and famously produced wine of a region are the perfect match! Think Neapolitan pizza with Sangiovese, Chevre with Sancerre, Argentinian BBQ with Malbec, or Spanish paella with Tempranillo!

Now that you know the winning methods, it's time to apply them! To determine which method is best for your palate, consider what the main feature of the food is. Is it quite acidic? Or does its richness stand out the most? Or maybe it's the herbaceous tone of the dish. Once you've determined this, you can run with the right method to suit! Keep in mind, that often the style of cooking (roasting, baking, frying) and the sauce (sweet, sour, spicy, creamy) are more important than the actual food on the plate.

For example, consider pan-fried chicken with a sweet chilli glaze compared to oven-roasted lemon thyme chicken, or a creamy chicken pasta. All are at their core, chicken dishes. However, the best pairing formula to use depends on the main flavour that's being used to enhance the chicken.

For the chicken with a sweet chilli glaze consider chilli heat pairings. Whereas for the baked lemon thyme chicken, consider a pairing formula that lines up with the acidity or herbs in the chicken. And if it's a creamy chicken dish like a cheesy pasta, look to the rich food formula.

When it comes to dishes that are heavy with non-spicy herbs (like Middle Eastern, Greek, Moroccan, non-spicy Mexican, and so on), it's best to try and match these flavours with wines that have an herbaceous quality to them too.

Classic pairing examples: Peppercorn & Cabernet Franc, Anise & Grenache, Oregano & Sangiovese, Lemongrass & Sauvignon Blanc

Alcohol makes spicy food taste spicier. Sweetness is a powerful force against burning mouths as it absorbs a lot of the heat, so lower alcohol, off-dry or sweet wines are going to be your best match.

Classic pairing examples: Spicy Tuna Tataki & Riesling, Buffalo Hot Wings & Moscato

Sweet foods have a simple, tried and true formula. Your mission is to find a wine that's sweeter than the dessert so it can take the lead. This is because a sweet dish will trump the flavours of almost all non-sweet wines.

Classic pairing examples: Macarons & Moscato, Salted Caramel & Muscat, Cheese Cake & Sauternes

Rich dishes can feel like the fat is smothering your taste buds, especially the roof of your mouth. This is where contrasting with tannin comes in. Tannin's hidden superpower is that they act as a scraper for the fat particles crowding your mouth. When a fatty dish and tannins combine, they counteract each other, letting the underlying flavours of the dish and the wine shine through. The flavour of each becomes that much more vibrant!

Classic pairing examples: Waygu Steak & Cabernet Sauvignon, Osso Bucco & Aglianico, Creamy Mushroom Risotto & Nebbiolo

An acidic dish will turn what can be a delightfully fruity, rich wine into a flabby, lifeless drop. So if you are going to be eating an acidic meal, your best bet is an acidic wine.

Classic pairing examples: Bolognese Pasta & Sangiovese, Lemon vinaigrette Salad & Sauvignon Blanc, Caprese Salad & Fiano

There are several tried and true classic pairings. Consider them No-Fail great matches. The kind that you can lean on whenever in doubt. Also, pairings that every wine lover should try at least once — for both pleasure and R & D — to understand the science of pairing in its full tastebud stimulating glory!

Sparkling Wine & Oysters

Sparkling wine thrives off its creamy mid-palate and then closes with biting acidity. So you have the roundness of the wine to go with the creaminess of the oyster, and then the acidity to complement the briny tang of the mollusc. The wine also freshens the palate after each bite. This is a delicate pairing that accentuates the salty minerality on both sides. The sparkling wine should be discrete enough to let the subtlety of the oyster come through.

Chardonnay & Seafood

So, it's time to splash out a little and celebrate. Crayfish, scallops, prawns, crab....the whole lot. What's going to be the perfect wine? Seafood tastes best when cooked with a little (ok, a lot) of butter. And this is the key. You can find some lovely buttery textures and flavours in top quality Chardonnay. Here, both the food and wine are rich and decadent. The citrussy acidity of the wine refreshes and will match perfectly that lemon juice you squeezed over the seafood at the last minute.

Riesling & Pork

Ok, so Riesling is actually super versatile and can easily pair up with raw seafood and white fish, but we're taking the traditional route here. In Alsace and across the border in Germany, they love to eat pigs. Charcuterie, sausages, slow roast...you name it. Pork has an inherent sweetness to it that the luscious flavours of (dry or off-dry) Riesling harmonise with wonderfully, but it also is fatty, and that's why this match works so well. The laser-like acidity of Riesling comes to the rescue and tidies things up every time.

Nebbiolo & Slow Braised Meat

Nebbiolo is an amazing grape variety, capable of the kinds of aromatic complexity that Pinot achieves, but many are put off by the powerful tannins that make the wine dry and foreboding. The way to counter this is with dense protein - the tannins will meld with the protein and wipe them clean, and likely seem less harsh as well. The slow cooking of the meat will tenderise it and allow the flavours of the wine to shine.

Cabernet Sauvignon & Steak

This pairing also relies on the tannins in the wine, but is probably best with juicier cuts like ribeye and porterhouse, to marry up to the lush fruit that Cabernet can bring. If you're cooking with thyme, rosemary or chervil, then you'll happily pair it with the slight green notes that Cabernet can bring also!

Port & Stilton

This pairing is so classic. A sweet fortified wine like Port has richness and weight that pairs perfectly with a food that can mirror its lushness and intensity, like Stilton. Better yet, the sweetness in the Port combined with the saltiness of the Stilton makes it a superb sweet and salty combo! Delicious and decadent.

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Key Reading

1. Pairing Main Flavours : A general overview.
2. Classic Pairings : A general overview
3. A Guide to Pairing wine with International Cuisine
4. Our favourite Surprising Matches!

Bonus Reading (for the nerds!)
5. Learn more about the different kinds of sweet wines — so versatile with spicy, salty and sweet foods, they may be one of your new favourite pairing wines!
6. Also check out Riesling, arguably one of the best food and wine pairing champions for so many dining situations!

Quiz

Ready to prove your new wine tasting skills?  Take the Chapter 5 Pairing Wine & Food Quiz! You'll earn your Chapter 5 Badge as well as 50 points by scoring 7/9 correct!

Homework

The best kind of assignment... tasting and eating!

For today's assignment, you will practice noticing how different flavour elements interact with wine.

Select a bottle of wine (any wine!) and then line up a few different flavours to taste with the wine separately: a wedge of lemon (acidity), a small piece fo cheese (fat), a piece of fruit (sweetness), dark chocolate (bitterness), salted cracker (salt). Now take a sip of the wine, and taste it with each of these flavours separately.

What did you notice? Did the wine bring out more or less flavour from the food? Did the flavour of the wine become more or less pleasant? Which pairing did you like best?

You can try this with as many wines as you like, and feel free to get creative with other foods too!

Look at you — the new pairing master! Your taste buds are in for a real treat. And your friends are too if you're the one hosting the next dinner party!

Remember, when it comes to flavours, these are tried and true formulas, but it's always good to stay curious, and be experimental! You never know what crazy weird pairing might captivate your senses. And if you find one, we'd love to hear about it so we can try it too!

Happy Wine Learning!

Alex & Banjo

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