The Art (or Science) of Wine and Food Pairing

Hosting a dinner party or making a special meal for a loved one can be a daunting task.  However, picking the perfect wine to pair with your meal doesn’t have to be difficult. There are two different schools of thought when it comes to food and wine pairing. A more subjective approach with general guidelines like serving red wine with meat and white with fish, dominated pairing recommendations for years. Recently, a new science-based approach proposed by Sommelier Francois Chartier and Chef Ferran Adria suggests that aromatic molecules act as sensory bridges and determine which foods and wines taste well together.

The simplest tip that subjectivists offer is “don’t drink wine you don’t like.”  But to move beyond that, it is important to recognize the structure, texture and flavor of both the food and the wine. Structure has to do with the sweetness, bitterness, saltiness, or acidity of the food and wine. The sweetness and the acidity are the most important as they interact with the sugar in food and change the taste of the wine. Texture refers to the weight of the food or wine and how it feels (ex. creamy, smooth) in your mouth. Light wines like Pinot Grigio go with light food like fish, and heavier wines like Merlot go with heavier dishes like steak. Flavor may be the most subjective part. Try to pick wines that complement your dish but don’t overpower it. Picking complementary or neutral wines is easier than picking contrasting flavors, although it can lead to a pleasurable result if done correctly!

It is also important to keep in mind the fat content of the food you are serving. The acidity of the wine should balance the dish or cut through the fat to taste pleasant. When serving wine with dessert, it should be sweeter than the dessert or the dish will taste bitter.

Another aspect of having a perfect wine pairing is ensuring that the wine is chilled to the proper temperature. Lighter wines taste better chilled, while heavier wines are better close to room temperature. It is also a good rule of thumb to serve simple wines with complicated dishes and vice-versa. The flavors and aromatics should not be overwhelming.

Research on aromatic molecular structure has influenced many nontraditional wine and food pairings like Riesling, rosemary and lamb. According to Chartier, who published a book Taste Buds and Molecules, foods and wines that share the same aromatic families will go well together. This groundbreaking approach rejects subjectivity and is beginning to change how sommeliers and chefs think about wine. Adria is opening the El Bulli Foundation in 2014 to further research aromatic synergies and how they affect our taste buds.

I think that no matter what it is important to drink wines that you like. Finding the perfect pairing requires a lot of trial and error. For someone on a budget like me, I think sticking with what you like is a good plan. However, that won’t stop me from trying new pairings recommended by professional sommeliers whenever I get a chance to eat out!

These Boston restaurants may be out of my price range, but they are definitely on my wishlist!

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And if you have extra wine (yeah right!), you can use it to make this delicious spaghetti squash with garlic white wine sauce!

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