On our last article we talked about the most basic notions in wine and food pairing: complementarity and contrast, and we promised we’ll continue with the actual characteristics of wines that bind or divide the match: acidity, sweetness, bitterness and the alcohol level.
Acidity is a key factor in pairing wines and food, because on a physiological level it affects our ability to perceive flavours. Remember that acidic wines tend to go great with acidic foods (for example, those where lemon or vinegar is used) or with fatty, oily, salty or rich dishes, but they’re very unlikely to go well with creamy sauces.
Sweetness is the combined result of the initial fruits’ sugar and the fermentation process. The general rule is that the wine should be sweeter than the dessert it accompanies, and yes, sweet wines are usually associated with desserts. But they can also go well with foods that have a certain sweetness (for example a sweet sauce), they balance spiciness and they can also contrast with certain salty foods.
Bitterness is linked to tannins, caused when the skins, seeds and stems of the grapes enter the wine creation process. Bitter wines are a wonderful match for foods rich in protein (meats, especially red, fatty or not) and they really help cleanse the palate. Fish oils, spicy foods and sweet dishes should not be your first options when you’re considering tannins, and also keep in mind that bitterness in foods and bitterness in wines combine.
Alcohol is linked to the wine’s weight and body, in the sense that the less alcohol, the less weight a wine has and that means less texture and density. Usually, wines with higher alcohol levels are good matches for salty and spicy dishes.
But there are other factors to consider and the most important one is probably your own taste. Since we all have different perceptions over reality (taste included), we’re all likely to make (at least) slightly different choices when it comes to wine and food pairing. And then there are those matches so famous that they’ve almost become clichés – for example, Chablis and oysters. Basically, the choice is yours and you should feel free to experiment over time. While you’re exploring, try to taste the wine and the food separately, think about each part’s specific flavours and characteristics and only then taste them both and try to figure out what works and what doesn’t.