Matching wine and food is not an exact science, and everyone’s taste is different. It is a value judgement. But there are some basic guidelines which help to avoid unpleasant clashes.
artichokes – a challenge to match with wine
The more acidic a wine, the easier it is to match with foods. Think of how a dash of lemon juice enhances some dishes.
Acidic wines deal very well with salty foods such as oysters, or oily fish like mackerel.
The wine should be more acidic than the food. In fact food can temper a wine which would otherwise be too acidic for most.
Alcohol Alcohol in wine affects the texture in the mouth, and if it is too high causes a bitterness and burning at the back of the throat.
Match the weight of the wine with that of the dish. Most foods are fairly light-weight, so it is easier to match lower alcohol, more elegant wines.
Avoid drinking high alcohol wines with chilli or very salty dishes – it just reinforces the burning.
Tannins come mainly from the skin and pips in grapes, so are most often found in red wines. They react with the saliva in your mouth to cause a puckering sensation. Tannin levels decrease as a wine ages, so young wines are more tannic than older ones.
Tannic wines clash badly with many fish dishes, leaving a metallic taste in the mouth.
Tannic wines go very well with fat and protein – grilled steak for example.
Both red and white wines can be oaked, but it is much more common in reds. Oak treatment is expensive, so it is done with better wines. The resulting wine has more body and tannin than lighter-styled wines.
Avoid delicate dishes, as the wine will overwhelm it.
Pick dishes with rich sauces, or where the food has been grilled rather than poached.
Are those with residual sugar. Note that they should also have a balancing acidity, or else they are just cloying and will hardly match any food at all.
The sweet wine should be sweeter than the pudding you are eating.
Semi-sweet wines go well with spicy hot food.
There is no point drinking a wine which you don’t like, just because someone on TV has declared it a perfect match with the food you are eating. In the end, you should drink what you enjoy, but perhaps use the above guidelines to avoid the worst clashes. If a wine really does clash, you can always finish it off after you’ve finished the food.
Blue cheeses provide the biggest challenge when matching with wine. They can be sweet, salty and spicy. These attributes clash with the tannins in red wines, producing a metallic taste. The solution is sweet wine.
Methods for making sweet wines Quality sweet wines are made by dehydrating grapes, which concentrates the sugar. If this is high enough, then some remains after fermentation. Examples of how these are made:-
A fungus called botrytis cinerea, also known as ‘noble rot’, can infect individual grapes under the right conditions. The infected grapes look revolting, but taste delicious.
‘Ice wine’ where grapes are left on the vine until the weather gets cold enough to freeze them. If they are pressed in this state, the juice is very concentrated.
Grapes are allowed to dry on the vine, or after picking, to become raisin-like.
Examples of these types of wine are:-
Sauternes/Barsac from the Bordeaux region. Also look for Loupiac and Monbazillac, less expensive and from the same grape varieties and region.
Sweet Chenin Blanc wines from the Loire – Coteaux de Layon, and Quarts de Chaume. Vouvray is made in many styles, and the sweet versions are labelled Moelleux or Liquoreux.
Sweet Alsace wines, particularly Selection de Grains Noble.
Tokaji from Hungary. The more Puttonyos declared on the label, the sweeter the wine.
Sweet Muscats, made in many countries.
Adding alcohol to stop the fermentation:-
Grape spirit can be added to partially fermented grape juice. This stops the fermentation and retains much of the grape sugar. This method is used to produce sweet red wines. Examples are:-
The term ‘hangover’ covers a range of symptoms including headache, nausea and dizziness caused by the consumption of alcoholic beverages. Some people are affected much more severely than others. The process is not fully understood.
The effect of alcohol (ethanol):-
Ethanol is a diuretic – it makes you excrete more than you normally would. The body becomes dehydrated, which can lead to many problems.
Ethanol is toxic, and is one of the few chemicals which can cross cell membranes. It can even cross the blood-brain barrier into brain cells.
It causes the blood glucose level to decrease, which can lead to weakness.
How alcohol is metabolised
Alcohol is normally metabolised in a 2 stage process. Accumulation of acetaldehyde is a real problem, as it is much more toxic than ethanol.
How alcohol is metabolised
Why some types of drink affect some people more than others?
All alcoholic beverages are a mixture of chemicals. Some such as wine are made up of hundreds, often present in very small quantities. These provide the drink’s character.
The particular chemicals depend on the raw materials, processing such as fermentation and distillation, and subsequent ageing.
Some people are adversely affected by particular chemicals. The reason may be that they are allergic, or cannot metabolise them.
I have known people have a problem with wines made from a particular grape variety, or a type of spirit. If you have very adverse reactions, it is worth investigating this possibility.
How to prevent a hangover
It shouldn’t need saying, but I will say it anyway:-
Eat food when you drink – the alcohol is absorbed more slowly.
Drink plenty of water – this limits dehydration.
Avoid drinks which have a particularly bad affect – why be a masochist?
Know your limits.
How to get rid of that hangover
Drink water to rehydrate. You may also want to use sachets of electrolyte to replace those you have lost.
Your blood glucose level is usually low after drinking. Eat carbs such as bread or cereals, as these can be readily converted into glucose.
Potassium levels are also low. Try eating foods such as bananas and kiwi fruit to boost this mineral.
‘Hair of the dog’ is often tempting, but sadly only delays the inevitable.
The only way to be guarantee a hangover-free life is to drink no alcohol, and where’s the fun in that.
The first rule of wine and food pairing, is to drink something you enjoy. The perfect pairing is in the eye of the beholder.
Certain types of wine can be excluded because they clash with fish and shellfish, but a wide range of wines go very well. Heavier styles of wine match better with richer dishes.
Wines to avoid Avoid tannic grape varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Nebbiolo. Tannins cause puckering and drying of the mouth, and they react with iodine in marine fish and shellfish to produce a metallic taste. This spoils the food and the wine.
Red wines which can work
Some red grape varieties have low tannin levels, and some wines are made in a way which extracts little tannin from the grapes. Good acidity also helps to match with shellfish, and to cut through rich sauces. Some red wines which do work:-
Beaujolais. Made from Gamay grapes, and most have low tannin levels.
Pinot Noir. Particularly lighter styles of Burgundy.
Rioja. Lighter styles made for early drinking work well.
Cabernet Franc. The main source is the Loire in France.
A whole swathe of dry white wines with good acidity go really well with shellfish. Here are some suggestions:-
Riesling. A great grape variety, but choosing Riesling needs care, as styles vary from the bone-dry to the lush, rich and sweet.
Chardonnay. A racy Chablis for the shellfish. An oaked wine for the rich sauces.
Sauvignon Blanc. Whichever style you enjoy.
Albariño. A grape variety grown near Spain’s Atlantic coast. It is just made to go with the local fish and shellfish.
Picpoul de Pinet. From the Mediterranean coast of France – just right for the local seafood.
Rosé wines come in a wide variety of styles. Match them in the same way you would white wines.
Sparkling wines, and the dry styles of sherry go well too.
The choice is your’s, but do try unfamiliar wines, as there is always a better one around the corner.