The Four Rules of Food and Wine Pairing

Everyone seems to have different ideas about pairing wine with food. But there are four rules that are consistent among most wine experts. Here are the four rules of pairing wine with food in order of importance.

1. Match the weight of the wine to the weight of the food. If you’re serving a heavy, winter-weather meal, serve a heavy winter-weather wine. If you’ve made something light and summery, serve a light, summery wine. This is where the old adage ‘white wine with white meat, red wine with red meat’ really holds up. It is the quickest and easiest way to pair your food with wine. But, say you want to make a more sophisticated pairing. That’s when you go to rule #2.

2. Match the elements of the wine with the elements of the food. The three elements of wine that you want to consider when pairing are acidity, sweetness and tannins. The elements of food that you want to consider are spiciness, saltiness, bitterness, umami, sweetness, and fats. Acidic wines work well with spicy, salty, fatty and umami foods. Tannic wines work well with fatty and salty foods, and clash with spicy foods. Off-dry wines work well with spicy and bitter foods. And sweet wines can work with sweet foods as long as the wine is sweeter than the food. The elemental pairing is depicted in short form below.

Sweet Wine: Sweeter food
Off-Dry Wine: Spicy or Bitter food
Acidic Wine: Spicy, Fatty, Salty, Umami
Tannic Wine: Fatty and Salty (no spicy)

But say you want to create a really special pairing, not just a pairing that enhances the elements of both the food and wine, but a pairing that seems to be greater than the sum of the whole. That takes us to the third step.

3. Match the flavors of the wine with the flavors of the food We’ve all done it at some point. We’re sipping a wine, perhaps a new one we’ve never experienced before and we notice a flavor or aroma that we’ve never perceived in any other wine. Maybe it’s ginger, maybe it’s almond, maybe we pick up on anise or bell pepper in a way that is certain and stunning. Remember that wine. The next time you serve it, pair it with a dish that uses one or a few of its aromas in the ingredients. It’s really incredible when a wine matches up elementally with the food and also echoes the flavors of the meal.

4. Serve the wine with which you cook If you’re cooking with wine, make sure you have enough to serve with the meal. The longer the dish cooks with the wine, the more heavenly the experience that glass of wine will be.

Numb, Dumb and Confirmed

methodist This year is my 12 year old daughter’s confirmation year. She has had confirmation classes all spring and next Sunday she will be confirmed. This morning on the way to class she told me that she didn’t want to go through the confirmation ritual. This is a girl who has been publically performing in dance recitals since she was 3. She’s involved in an improv group that does public performances. She’s done music recitals and performed with the school band. Either she is nervous about speaking in front of the congregation, or she is having second thoughts about committing to the Methodist church. Given her history, I have to think it is the latter.

When a white wine is over-chilled, it is said to be ‘numb.’ The temperature of the wine is such that the volatile compounds, the fruit and floral aromas of the wine can not longer be detected. All that’s left to experience is the acidity and the alcohol.

Full-bodied, complex red wines that need to age for several years before reaching maturity go through what is known as a ‘dumb phase.’ When the wine is first bottled, it’s fragrant with fruit. As it ages, the fruit aromas begin to fade, the tannins soften and the wine takes on a deep, rich complexity. But sometime during that process, the wine goes dumb. That in-between phase will be nothing but faded fruit, in a simple structure. Any similarity between this description and a real life teenager you may know is purely coincidental.

Confirmation is an important spiritual rite of passage. Though the ritual has to be scheduled, the spirituality of it really can’t be scheduled or insisted upon. Perhaps my outgoing performer is shutting down a bit as she matures. Or perhaps she just needs a little more time to warm up to the idea of confirmation. It may just be the numbing effect of nerves or it may be the maturing process of questioning her own spirituality. Next Sunday I’ll find out which one is confirmed; my daughter or my fears.