Is There a Wine for Every Food?
All wine professionals, even those whose careers do not focus on the restaurant, need to know the fundamentals of food and wine pairing.
Enrolling in the Napa Valley Wine Academy’s WSET Levels 1, 2 or 3 courses will give you an increasing understanding of how wine and food can bring out the best in one another.
Here are five textbook situations the Academy’s training will help you navigate.
Chocolate offers big, rich, sumptuous flavors, and there are plenty of wines that have those characteristics as well.
Difficulties with wine can arise thanks to the fact that chocolate contains varying amounts of sugar. For example, an intensely sweet milk chocolate will hollow out a tannic red such as a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon, making it seem thin and insipid.
Dark, bitter chocolates pair better with red wines, assuming the latter are more fruity than tannic. Zinfandel comes to mind. A Ruby Port would also work.
Bottom line: If the wine is sweeter than the decadent chocolate you hope to pair with it, then the combination likely will work.
One of the most common food held up by chefs as being incompatible with wine, asparagus, actually can work with wines that share a measure of its pungent, vegetal goodness.
The obvious choice is a brisk, grassy Sauvignon Blanc from Marlborough, New Zealand, or a more mineral Sauvignon Blanc from Sancerre, France.
Anything red and tannic will taste metallic against the unique flavor profile offered by asparagus.
Rather than intensify the green, herbal nature of asparagus, the right Sauvignon Blanc, with its attendant acidity, will take the edge off and bring it into balance.
Besides chocolate, spicy foods, from blistering Thai curries to burritos stuffed with exotic peppers, are among the most beloved in North America.
The problem is that wines high in alcohol or tannin will wreak havoc on the enjoyment of these foods. High alcohol and tannin intensify heat, which is great if you love the burn, but detrimental if you want to taste the other elements in play.
Spicy foods also emphasize the astringency of tannins in red wines, making Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Barolo extremely tough partners.
The antidote to foods with corrosive (but delicious) heat? Wines with a measure of fruit and some residual sugar. Think off-dry Riesling from Australia or Gewurztraminer from Alsace.
Salads with Vinaigrette Dressing
Vinegar used to be the Achilles Heel of wine pairing, making salads dressed with balsamic or similar dressings incompatible with wines lacking the acidity to stand up to them.
Vinegar is sour, and as such a wine with moderate, but not piercing, acidity can work wonders.
This might sound counterintuitive: Won’t pairing an acidic wine with an acidic dressing create an unbearable sharpness or sourness? The mechanics of taste do not work with this way. A moderately acidic wine will actually balance the acidity in the dressing.
This balance would produce the following experience: A solid Chablis or Brut Champagne, for example, will quickly brighten that salad, while the vinaigrette dressing will intensify the wines’ fruit.
This is a favorite post-dinner indulgence, but sadly one of the toughest to pair with wine.
For a wine to work with an especially pungent or aged cheese, one of two things must be present: sugar or fruit.
A Sauternes or Moscato d’Asti will quickly offset but not obliterate the cheese’s pungency, making such wines perfect choices for those guests who may shy away from cheeses with these attributes.