To start off, the words wine pairing are controversial themselves, as many people find them odd-sounding and empty. In all truth, the majority of experts, critics and amateurs prefer using terms like ‘harmony’, ‘matching’ or ‘partner’. Even when we use wine pairing as a verb, most people prefer referring to it as ‘accompanying’.
However, let’s go through it by parts. The pairing of wine and food is the process of ‘joining’ a meal and a specific wine with the intention of bringing up the colours, textures, flavours and scents in both of them. The fundamental principle is to create new sensations, both when tasting then wine, as well as when the accompanying food is savoured.
It is true that wine pairing is an issue which brings up great controversies. This is because of the boom in new grape varieties, cellars and wine types that we have experienced in these last years, together with the great moment through which gastronomic culture is going through. Both of these have made matters on the harmony of wine and food go much more in depth and leave aside the outdated maxim that ‘fish should be partnered with white wines and meat should be accompanied by red wines’.
In any case, we must take into account that wine pairing is a matter of personal preferences, although there are certain rules to follow. In the moment of truth, the choice of one or another wine will depend on the type of meal which is going to be prepared, as well as how is it going to be cooked and, of course, the taster’s preferences.
Once wine pairing is understood as an experimental job where no one should close any doors, there are a set of suggestions which can be followed to better understand how the pairing works.
In first place, we must think on the elements composing the menu as a global experience. In terms of the wine, and as a general rule, we must never serve a wine with a greater body before a lighter wine, as we risk finding the latter one insipid and bland. Because of this, menus are organised according to the intensity of the food and, in the same way, so are the wines which pair each course of the meal.
Hence, in general, we usually pair entrées and first courses with white wines or rosés, followed by young red wines, then the more mature reds and, finally, we round off the menu with generous wines or sweet wines.
In second place, we must be very clear that in wine pairing matters, the concepts of equilibrium and balance are fundamental. To do this, we must first understand the weight of different foods and wines.
In the case of food, their weight is defined by the raw ingredients used to cook the dish, the amount of fat it has, the intensity of the flavours of the different elements, etc.
On the other side, in the case of the wines, their weight is defined by their body and intensity. These are characterized by their alcohol content, their tannin concentration, the grape varieties used to elaborate them, their aging time and even the region where it was produced.
In general, we can assume that white young wines are usually lighter, followed by more structured whites and white wines which have been aged in barrels. In this same group we can find rosés. Lastly, amongst the red wines with greater weight we include ‘gran reservas’, ‘reservas’, ‘crianzas’ and the younger wines.
In third place, we can also harmonize meals with wines based on the principles of association or contrast.
In the case of association, what we are looking for is for food and wine to complement each other. These can happen through their colour, temperature, texture, flavours, etc. On the other side, when we talk about contrast, we do the opposite. Here, we look for equilibrium between food and wine through opposing sensations. A very common example of this is when strong and salty cheeses are harmonized with sweet wines.
In fourth place, we must give priority to the way the food has been cooked. No one is unaware that grilling meat is completely different to cooking it as part of a stew of accompanied with very spicy sauces. In general, we must compensate the complexity or simplicity of the dishes with the choice of wine.
Finally, we must remember that, in the same way that it happens with almost everything, wine pairing is also a question of personal taste. In the end, it all depends on anyone’s own experience and their experiments combining different flavours, colours, textures and scents.