Italian wine has always been produced as an accompaniment to food. Wine for wines sake, wine that is simply to be enjoyed solo is a relatively new phenomenon and through the ages wine production, producing the perfect wine, has been the quest to create the perfect food/wine match.
Wine variance through the regions of Italy is directly related to the regional foods. It is no happy accident that the wines of Italy have a high acidity content. The Italian diet consisted of fish, tomatoes, olive oil and condiments such a vinegar and lemons were used to cut through that fatty/oily diet with acid. If drinking wine, then acidic wines were called for, Valpolicella, Dolcetto and Chianti being good examples.
Oily foods, fish etc, need to be cut with a sharpness that Italian wines can provide. Normally we would seek to pair fish with a white wine, but some Italian reds can also do the job. Today we are going to look at Food/Wine matches to make, and most importantly, food/wine matches to avoid. These recommendations are not cast in stone, just like wine itself, food/wine pairings are down to individual taste. I can’t imagine many enjoying the metallic taste you’re left with when you pair a tannic bordeaux with oily fish but, if you had braces as a child, perhaps it will give you immense pleasure recalling your childhood.
There are very few perfect matches, so never worry about finding the perfect food/wine match. There are however, some basic principles that should help you never make a bad choice when ordering wine for food.
The Theory Test
When matching food and wine all you need to do is take into consideration some easy to grasp basic principles. When you have these etched on your brain, the worry over what wine to buy for a family event or special meal will melt away like the butter in a saucepan.
1) Chewy foods go with chewy tannins. So your powerful Cabernets and a tannic Merlot would be a loving partner for steaks, beefburgers, a roast meal, a beef stew, really any dark meats.
2) Fatty and oily foods go with acidic wines. As I mentioned, if you don’t want to take a white wine that is the traditional pairing then you can take an acidic Italian red. Valpolicella, Dolcetto, Chianti will all do this job. The white wines of Alsace and Riesling are a more traditional pairing.
3) Salty foods match sweet or highly acidic wines. A salty chicken soup will match up with an acidic wine, like a Chianti or a sweet wine, like Lambrusco.
4) Either match the flavour profile or contrast the flavour profile. If you’ve tasted a wine before and thought, “wow, that’s just like oranges” then you can match it with duck l’orange for example. If you think a wine has a contrasting flavour to a food; that can work too. Try things, think about the characteristics of the wine, the weight, the acidity, richness and intensity and then think about the meal. Does it share these qualities? If so, it probably goes well. If it’s the opposite, it probably goes well. If it’s a hit and miss kind of thing, it’ll probably bomb.
5) The quick match tick list. If all that seems too much to remember then just go with the quick match tick list. Match all these characteristics to the wine.
- Weight – heavy meals=heavy wines or light and airy foods=light wine
- Acidity – high acidity food=high acidity wine
- Sweetness – sweet food=sweet wine
- Richness – rich food=rich wine
- Flavour Intensity – strong flavours in the food=strong flavoured wine
Cheese gets its own little subsection. Everybody loves wine and cheese they are perfect together, they are the Laurel and Hardy of food/drink combinations but even this perfect pair can go horribly wrong. Lets take some basic Italian cheese and match them up.
Parmigiano/Romano/Padova – Barbera, Barolo, Barbaresco, Brunello, Chianti and a Super Tuscan
Gorgonzola and Blue Cheeses– Valpolicella, Amarone
Goats Cheese and Soft Cheeses – Sauvignon Blanc, the Northern whites.
Food and Wine Pairings from Hell
1) Tannic wines and fish – metallic and nasty, a complete no-no.
2) Subtle wines and Spicy foods – Curries or Chinese foods with lowly flavoured wines.
3) Meaty and heavy dishes with light wines – Steak and Champagne for example.
Dream matches, like white truffles and Barolo, are few and far between. Keep experimenting and maybe you will come up with your own personal dream matches. If you do, don’t forget to tell me all about them.
Question of the Day
Share your food matches from heaven and your food matching mistakes.