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Wine is great. Food is great. Wine and food together? Even better… potentially. We’ve all seen the advice – match this food with that wine and both components will shine. But how do you actually get it right?
As a basic principle, keep in mind that like pairs with like. A mild wine can go with mild food and a richer dish can be paired with rich wine. The intensity of both meal and drink should be on par with each other. For example, a pasta with a creamy sauce can pair well with a rich, buttery Chardonnay. Meanwhile, a light, zesty, fresh salad might go nicely with a light-bodied, higher acid content Sauvignon Blanc.
If your dish has multiple flavours in it, like a duck roast with an orange sauce, it is best to pair your wine with the most dominant flavour in the dish, which is likely to be the sauce. So instead of choosing a wine based on the strong, gamey meat, pick one that will go well with the fruity flavour of the sauce, like an aromatic, full-bodied white.
There are two basic types of wine pairings. The first is a congruent pairing, which is when you balance your food with a wine that has shared flavour compounds, ultimately amplifying the flavour of both. For example, a creamy bechamel sauce-based macaroni dish is rich and fatty, which would create a congruent pairing with a creamy white wine like a Chardonnay.
Alternatively, you can opt for a contrasting, or complementary pairing, in which you balance the dish with contrasting flavours in the wine. A contrasting pairing with the same creamy macaroni dish could be something more acidic, like a zesty Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc.
Not sure if you should go with a congruent or contrasting pairing? Here’s a quick rule of thumb. Most often, red wines will be best as a congruent pairing and white, sparkling, and rose wines as contrasting pairings. For example, you can match a high acid dish like baked goat cheese with an acidic Sauvignon Blanc and balance a sweet dish like creamed corn with bitter red wine.
Ultimately, the most important principle to keep in mind is that taste in wine (and food!) is subjective, meaning there are no mistakes in food and wine pairing. Follow your taste buds and have fun.
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