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Wine and food pairing ABC’s

Pairing the right food and wine at a party or evening out can be a daunting task, though it should be as mouth-watering as deciding on an entree.

Anyone can begin to successfully pair wine with food like a professional by matching the “acid or tannin,” “body style,” and “chronology” of the wines you choose. These items make up the “ABC’s” of wine and food pairing.

The overriding reason for pairing wine with food is to increase enjoyment while imbibing and eating. For a pair to be successful, neither the food nor the wine should be diminished by its partner. Occasionally, one will come across a truly spectacular match where both the food and the wine flavors explode as they come together. With some practice, if it can be called that, these sublime pairings can be discovered more often.

Before getting started, it is important to say that the traditional white-with-white and red-with-red pairing advice is not always true. This axiom was created when popular white wines were much lighter than we commonly drink today and red wines were much less refined than current popular versions. That being said, by practicing the ABC’s you will find that the traditional advice does still have some merit.

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With white varietals, try to match the acidity of the food with the acidity of the wine. High acid foods such as a salad with vinaigrette dressing, citrus marinated seafood, or pasta with peppers and tomato sauce balance the acidity in such wines. White wines such as sauvignon blanc and riesling and red wines such as Chianti (made from the sangiovese grape) can be high in acidity. In general, wines with higher natural acidity are typically easier to pair with food than those with lower acid, as they mobilize the salivary glands.

Red wines contain tannin that is born from grape skins, seeds, stems.

Both reds and whites also acquire tannin from oak aging. These tannins act as an astringent on the palate and accentuate the impression of bitterness in foods such as spinach and dark chocolate. Fats and uncoagulated proteins balance the impression of tannin, hence the reason for the natural pairing of a big Napa cabernet with a hot juicy steak. Lower tannin reds such as pinot noir have less tannin and slightly higher acidity than many reds making it a fantastic wine with a wide variety of foods.

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The body style of wine is simply the weight of the wine on the palate. To get an idea of what the weight of wine feels like, compare light, medium, and full-bodied wine to skim milk, whole milk, and half and half. Try to match like-body styles of food and wine such as rack of lamb with merlot or baked tilapia with a pinot blanc. If you try to match a lighter wine such as sauvignon blanc with pot roast, you will quickly understand that the pot roast will demolish the wine’s impression in the mouth.

Chronology is simply the order in which wines are served. In a restaurant setting, the least powerful foods are typically served first so they will not exhaust the palate. The same thing should apply to serving wines. Offer the lightest wines first while leaving the most intense wines for a dessert or cheese course. Fortified wines such as port are very full-bodied and can still shine at the end of a multi-course dinner.

Of the ABC’s, the most important is body style. Try to start by matching the body style of the wine and food first. Once that is decided, consider the acids and fats of each course followed in the big picture by the meal’s chronology. By following these steps you are sure to delight the senses at your next meal.

If you have any questions or comments relating to wine, please e-mail me at mark@sdwineguy.com, and I’ll answer them in an upcoming issue of The La Jolla Light.