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Two Women on Wine: Art of wine and food pairings

Decide whether your focus is the food or the wine

Posted: June 22, 2012 6:00 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2012 6:00 a.m.

Lil Lepore and Shari Frazier

 

The process of food and wine pairing is meant to enhance the dining experience. In many ways the local culinary traditions and winemaking have evolved together. Local cuisines were paired with local wines, but more recently an industry has developed around the "art" of food pairings. Certain elements, such as texture and flavor, in both the food and wine react differently to each other, so finding the right combination of these elements will make your dining experience more enjoyable.

The focus of the pairing can shift depending on the desired outcome. If your focus is the wine, than a lighter food that compliments the wine would be more appropriate. This way the food is not in competition with the wine, but not too light where it will be overwhelmed.

It is important to understand the balance between the weight of the food and the weight, or body, of the wine. The body of wine is determined primarily by the alcohol level of the wine. Usually, the higher the alcohol level, the more weight the wine has. As a general rule, pair lighter wines with lighter foods; heavier wines with heavier foods.

Acidity is an important factor, because it can heighten the perception of flavors. In wine tasting, the acidity is perceived by a mouth watering response of the salivary glands. Wine has three main acids that have their own associated flavors such as malic (green apples), lactic (milky), and tartaric (bitter). The acidity in wine can actually cut through and stand out in dishes that are fatty, oily, rich or salty.

Sweetness in wine is determined by the amount of residual sugar left in the wine after the fermentation process is complete. If the sugars are fully fermented in the alcohol, wines can be bone dry. They can also be off-dry, which has a hint of sweetness. Semi-dry, also called medium sweet or dessert level, contains high amounts of sugar. Generally, sweet wines should be sweeter than the dish they are served with. When pairing with desserts choose a lighter wine, like Moscato or Madeira. When pairing spicy foods, try a Riesling or Gewurtztraminer to compliment the meal, you will not be disappointed!

Bitterness associated with wine is commonly derived from tannins, which add a gritty texture and a chalky, astringent taste. Tannins come from the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes themselves, and can add to the perception of body, or weight in the wine. A full-bodied, tannic Cabernet Sauvignon would be wonderful with a well-marbeled steak; or try a Syrah with grilled sausage and grapes.

White wines such as Sauvingnon Blanc, Albarino and Vermentino have a bright, citrusy acidity that acts like a zap of lemon or lime juice to heighten flavors in everything from smoked sablefish to grilled salmon. Pinot Grigio, for instance, pairs well with light fish dishes.

With lighter meats such as pork and chicken, pair the wine with the sauce. The meat is not always the primary flavor; the sauce is, and typically dictates the pairing choice. Earthy wines complement earthy foods, so reds such as Pinot Noir and Nebbiolo pair well with foods such as pork loin with a fruit chutney or grilled Portobello mushroom. A dry rosé goes well with a wide range of hors d'oeuvres, or rich, cheesy main dishes.

There are many suggestions in the modern art of pairing. When in doubt, ask a local wine merchant or someone whose wine knowledge you trust. Determine what you would like to accomplish in a meal, and the rest should be a piece of cake. Cheers!

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