You have no doubt heard “wine experts” describing a certain vintage as having “hints of blackberries, cinnamon and lavender, followed by touches of blueberries, licorice and an increasing peppery nose.” With all those flavors in there already, it’s no wonder pairing certain wines with complementary food can get complicated.
Basic guidelines begin with matching the weight of the wine with the weight of the food: light wines with light foods, such as chicken and seafood; sturdy wines with sturdy foods, such as cheese and steak. It’s also important to remember that a white wine isn’t always light—some New World Chardonnays, for example, may be more full-bodied than certain Cabernets.
Once you have the wine’s weight in balance with the food, work on harmonizing the flavors. You don’t want the aromas of the wine to overpower the food, just as you don’t want the food to crush the subtle nuances in the wine. With that said, if you are tempted by a sense of adventure, try something different, out of the usual guidelines. You might be pleasantly surprised.
“It’s all about exploring the various combinations to discover your personal preferences,” says Rufino Rengifo, Corporate Executive Chef at Celebrity Cruises.
Here are some simple guidelines to begin your own adventure into food and wine pairing.
1. Think about the weight, balance and intensity of the wine. Plain grilled fish perfectly picks up the flavors from a dry Riesling; Merlot stands up to steaks and even venison; while Chenin Blanc ideally compliments the delicate flavors in shrimp or crab.
2. Keep acidity in mind. Pasta with a tomato-based sauce pairs better with a smooth, rounded Beaujolais or a Zinfandel; cream-based pasta sauces belong with zesty Chardonnays, Rieslings or Sauvignon Blancs.
3. Look at the tannin content—this is what drives astringency. Red wine contains more tannins, as red grapes are fermented with the skin intact. It’s good to note, sour or salty food can take the edge off a wine that is too high in tannins and sweet foods actually brings our more tannins in a bashful wine. Conversely, an astringent wine can minimize the tang of over-salted food.
4. When you are choosing a wine, consider the sweetness and spiciness of a food. Contrasting the two creates some of the liveliest food and wine matches. As a consequence, sweeter wines, like Gewürztraminer, highlight the fiery seasonings in Asian dishes; whilst a “spicy” wine like Zinfandel provides an interesting juxtaposition to sweet, fruity sauces, and chocolate.
5. It will probably come as no surprise to learn that the best food to practice food pairing on is cheese. The reason cheese appears so often with wine is that the wide variety of tastes and textures available assures an ideal partner for any wine type. Also, the high fat content in cheese often tames an unruly tannin. Red wines love to spar with more ‘aggressive’ cheeses, such as Peccorino or Parmesan; fortified wines, such as a Port, match well with Roquefort; while white wines usually prefer a communion with soft cheeses like Brie and goat cheese.
If you’re aboard a Celebrity Cruise, you can learn more about food and wine pairings through some of our onboard workshops, such as our Riedel Workshop, our Taste of the Vineyards Wine Packages, as well as through our cookbook.