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How can a meal go from adequate to exquisite?
With an expert wine pairing, of course!
While most people are familiar with the concept of pairing food and wine, it’s definitely something that is easier said than done. What is it about the wine or about the food that determines if they are a good match, and what does a good pairing actually taste like? This week, Table & Thyme is using experience and event catering industry knowledge to cover the basics of wine pairing and how to master the flavors of every event’s menu!
Wine and food have a lot of differences…surprising, right? In fact, 'wine' itself is too general a term to truly encompass the scope of everything that wine pairing has to consider to be successful. Before getting into the mechanics of how to match up (or contrast) the flavors of wine and the foods being served, there are a few basic concepts and understandings that need to be addressed to prevent a disastrous pairing.
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It’s About Wine!
Before it can be paired with anything, wine has to be understood on its own. It’s common knowledge that wine is an alcoholic drink made from the fermented juice of grapes, but how are there so many varieties, and what is it that sets them apart?
Turns out, there are a variety of grapes that are used to make wine that can change its flavor, body, color, and more! There are other factors that play a part in the distinction of wine varieties and characteristics, such as the region from which the grapes are harvested, the method of crushing and pressing the grapes, how the juice is fermented, and how it is aged and bottled, as well. All of these things work in conjunction to create an array of wines with unique flavor profiles and pairings!
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Which Wine is Best?
There’s much more to wine than simply choosing between red and white. In fact, there are six types of wine to consider when deciding what to pair with a particular meal that are distinguished by much more than their coloring. The main types of wine to choose from are:
Each type of wine is characterized by a unique integration of qualities and is further categorized by varieties within the type.
Red wine, for example, is made from darker grape varieties and typically has a sourness or bitterness to it. Varieties of red wine include Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Noir, and Zinfandel.
White wine, however, is made without the skin of the grapes, which results in the yellow and yellowish-green coloration, as opposed to the burgundy and violet coloring of red wine. White wine is often described as having citrus and floral notes and is overall a much lighter and crispier wine to drink. Varieties of white wine include Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio, and Riesling.
Rosé is a popular wine that features fresh and fruity flavors with a blushing light pink coloration. Many people believe the pink comes from a mixture of red and white wine, but in reality, rosé is made by incorporating a small amount of grape skin which results in the color. Varieties of rosé are labeled as such and can include variations of wines including Provence Rosé, Zinfandel Rosé, Cabernet Sauvignon Rosé, and more.
Sparkling Wine is exactly what it sounds like, a wine that is carbonated. This fuzzy and bubbly type of wine features a range of flavors from fruity and citrusy to nutty with notes of vanilla. People enjoy sparkling wines such as Champagne and Prosecco for special events and oftentimes in special glasses, as well.
Dessert Wine includes a large range of characteristics. They may be flat, like red or white wine, or they may be fizzy like sparkling wine. They can come in a range of colors, but the shared characteristic that classifies them as dessert wines is that they are sweet. This includes Icewine and Moscato.
Fortified Wine is a unique collaboration of wine with distilled spirits. The flavors, therefore, rely on the spirits used to make each variety and include drinks such as Port, Sherry, and Marsala.
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Now that the basics of wine have been covered, it’s time to break down the process of pairing. When it comes to pairing wine and food, it’s important to note that ‘pairing’ is about much more than finding ‘what goes well together.’ Understanding why things go together will help you to determine which method of pairing would best suit your needs.
Pairings can fall into two main categories: congruent or complementary. Congruent pairings are pairings of food and wine that are made based on shared and similar flavor properties in order to create a balanced experience. An example of a congruent pairing could be serving a glass of creamy Chardonnay alongside pasta with creamy white sauce. In this example, the main flavor compound that is shared is the creaminess of both, and the pairing of the two highlights creaminess as the main characteristic of the meal.
Complementary pairings, or contrasting pairings, are characterized by the opposite. In these pairings, a wine is selected that possesses flavors that oppose the flavors of the dish in order to contrast and emphasize one another. An example of a complementary or contrasting pairing is serving an acidic white wine with a fatty dish such as macaroni and cheese will enhance the flavors of the cheese while the intensity of the wine remains unchanged when paired with the pasta. The balance of a complementary pairing is created through the contrasting of the flavors.
Now that we’ve covered the types of pairings, you can use this information to determine the goals of your meal. Once you decide the type of pairing experience you are after, you can begin to explore your options.
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Choosing the Right Wine
While you are not likely going to prioritize the type of wine before deciding on a meal to serve, there are a few things to keep in mind while making your choice. For example, the wine you choose will be a key element for enhancing your event, but how? Will the wine complement the theme, or is it more important that the wine be appropriate for the type of event you’re hosting? Once you’ve made the distinction of which wines to rule out, deciding on the dish is likely going to be the deciding factor in which wine you should choose.
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Choosing the Right Food
Just like with wine, there are a lot of factors to consider when deciding what dish to serve at your event. However, most of the consideration comes after the meal has been selected and is used to determine the wine pairing! So, once you’ve settled on your meal of choice and you decide what kind of pairing you’re after, how do you actually pair the food with the wine?
The pairing is contingent on the flavor profiles of both the food and the wine and how they interact with one another. These flavor profiles are qualities that are used to describe the flavor of foods and wine. There are six main flavor profiles that are used in determining a delicious pairing and they are acidity, fat, bitterness, salty, sweet, and spice. While food is likely to possess some if not all of these profiles, wine typically only has the acidity, sweetness, and bitterness profiles.
In order to use these profiles for pairing, you’ll need to assess the flavors of the dish first. Break down its flavors into the most basic profiles possible. For example, if the dish were macaroni and cheese, its most basic flavor profiles would be high fat and salty. You would use this information to determine either a complementary or a congruent pairing by comparing the profiles of the food to the profiles of the wine.
In conclusion, wine pairing is a food science that uses the finest of details to create an extravagant flavor experience. If you are looking to find a quality pairing for an event or special occasion, we hope this guide provided a helpful place to start. While the internet is a wonderful resource for learning more about the pairing of wine and food, here are some other helpful tips to consider.
- Use the most prominent part of the dish to pair with wine. If serving a dish rich in sauce, use the flavor profile of the sauce to determine its pairing.
- Red wine usually pairs well with red meat because the wine softens the proteins of the meat and enhances the fatty flavors.
- White wine is typically paired with light meats such as fish and chicken because the acidity in the wine adds a citrusy freshness to the meat, similar to how lemon interacts with fish.
- Sparkling wine and rosé are likely to create contrasting pairings.
- Red wines are likely to create congruent pairings.
- Wine should be more acidic and sweeter than food, but possess the same level of intensity.
We hope you enjoyed this guide to pairing wine like a pro. If you don’t want to risk any missteps, you can always trust Table & Thyme to cater your event and take care of the pairing for you!
For more information on Table and Thyme, contact them today! Follow us on our social media: Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn and Pinterest to see the other amazing events, lavishing grazing tables and beautiful graze boxes we have created.