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.
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 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.