THE KEY ELEMENTS IN FOOD AND WINE
A great food and wine pairing not only celebrates the ingredients but also marks a moment. That moment when all the ingredients (including the wine) come together creating a blissful experience and accentuate the harmony of flavors in the meal that can be almost impossible to forget.
When wine is consumed by itself, it tastes different than it would with a bite of food. The elements in wine interact with the elements in the food creating a myriad of taste sensations. Understanding each ingredient in the dish and the role they play is vital in arriving at a successfully balanced pairing. Balance, with regards to texture, weight, and flavor intensity, is essential. Acid, salt, spice, texture, weight, sweetness/fruitiness – too much of either of these things can throw wine or food off balance.
So here are the key elements in food and wine that impact pairings:
Ingredients – Raw ingredients are building blocks of the meal. Hence, using the best quality ingredients available will create a strong framework for the final dish. Protein cuts – Less Exercised =t ender; More exercised = tougher
Flavor Dynamics – When pairing food with highly aromatic wines, we run into a risk of it overpowering a meal due to its intense flavor profile. But those highly aromatic wines could make a bold pairing when matched with cuisines of equal intensity.
Cooking Techniques – Another crucial aspect of achieving a balanced pairing. What cooking technic we use when preparing a dish will impact the wines we chose to go with it. Think poached vs. sautéed vs. grilled vs. broiled vs. braised vs. deep-fried etc. Each technic accentuates the quality and intensity of flavors in a dish. For example, take a mild fish like Halibut, that is best when sautéed, or poached, and will gravitate towards a light to medium bodied white wine. Whereas, the high-fat content and the gaminess of the lamb will call for a fuller bodied, tannic red wine.
Seasoning – Proper seasoning determines how we perceive the taste of a dish. Salt is used to bring out the natural flavor of the food.
Body – The key in wine pairing is the balance, and if either the wine or the food is putting one or the other off balance the result won’t be as exhilarating. Think of it this way, light-bodied wines are at risk of being overpowered by a full-bodied dish, and vice versa.
Acid – A great refresher and a flavor enhancer, that can also reduce the impression of saltiness in a dish. It is important to consider how acidic the wine is when pairing with food because when the acidity of the wine is too high, it could entirely strip the flavor of the dish.
Sweetness – Sweetness in wine can do quite a bit when reacted to the dish. It can soften the impression of spiciness, create a high contrast with salt and acid, and even compliment sweetness in a meal. That said, it also has a contrary tendency like muting the flavors or compounding with the sweetness (sweet x 2) in the dish, and therefore overpower everything.
Tannin – The wine’s tannins can sometimes feel astringent, drying, or even bitter. But it also can be softened or heightened by certain elements in food. It is the protein in a dish can make tannic wine seem softer on the palate.
– Sometimes the bitter qualities of a dish can complement the same qualities in wine, or add more depth to the wine with low in tannins. However, it can also be compounded (double the bitterness).
– The saltiness in a dish is said to intensify the tannins in wine and make it seem like the tannins are more intense than they actually are, even with a presence of protein in a dish.
Now here’s a little controversial kicker to these conventional “rules” of the roles of salt and protein in reaction to tannins. A recent study has shown that the softening of tannins is not a result of its interaction with only the protein and fat of the meat, but is the bitter suppressive quality of salt put on the protein, that is responsible for this phenomena. Bam! Science!
Alcohol – Alcohol in wine can be intensified by a dish’s spicy/salty qualities, whereas it can be softened by sweet/fruity qualities in a dish.
While there are many factors to keep in mind when pairing food and wine, in the end, it comes down to the personal preferences and palate differences that are very individual to each of us. Hence, there are no rules that will work for everyone. Just like we all have our favorite foods, we also have our preferences in wine. No matter how much we try to achieve balance when pairing food with wine and follow all the rules, if the pairing asks for one of our least favorable wines, we won’t appreciate the pairing as much as we would with the wines we like.
So, basically, we can throw out all the rules and hard work we put in out the window because it really comes down to this: the only palate we need to please is our own. If it works for you, then that is the best pairing.