The importance of choosing the right wine
It is no surprise that the wine can set out the tone of a meal, pulling it together in harmony of aromas and bringing out the flavours of the dish itself – which is why it is important to know how to choose the right wine for a specific dish. Although there are some general guidelines to help out, some might say there is a wiggle room to improvise and explore other pairings, as wine is a never-ending adventure that can be appreciated in infinite options without set-in-stone rules.
We can always guide ourselves with some basic pairing knowledge:
– The wine should be more acidic than the food;
– The wine should be sweeter than the food;
– The wine should have the same flavour intensity as the food;
– Red wines pair best with bold flavoured meats (as is the case of red meat);
– White wines pair best with light-intensity meats (like fish or chicken);
– Bitter wines (e.g. red wines) are best balanced with fatty meals;
– It is better to match the wine with the sauce than with the meat;
– More often than not, white, sparkling and rosé wines create contrasting pairings;
– Often, red wines will create congruent pairings.
Flavour pairing methods
There are two ways to pair the flavours of wine with a meal: with the congruent method or complimentary method. While a complimentary pairing creates a balance by contrasting tastes and flavours, a congruent pairing creates a balance by amplifying shared flavour compounds.
In order to apply these methods, we need to be able do identify the basic tastes (which are found in food and vary from the basic – including sweet, sour and fat – to the extreme – such as spicy, unami and electric). We usually only need to focus on 6 tastes when pairing food and wine: salt, acid, sweet, bitter, fat and spice. As for the basic taste components in wine, we can say that there are 3: acidity, sweetness and bitterness (each varying in different degrees).
Take the example of a baked macaroni with cheese:
Complementary pairing: a white wine with high acidity will complement the fat in the macaroni, so if the recipe has lots of cheese and bechámel sauce, the best complementary wine would be a white Sauvingon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or even a Castelão (like Quinta dos Vales’ Dialog Castelão Blanc de Noir).
Congruent pairing: a white wine with creaminess will add to the creaminess of the dish, balancing the flavours in harmony – white wines such as Chardonnay or Viognier (like Quinta dos Vales’ Grace Viognier 2020) would create a congruent pairing.
Pairing wine with fish
Matching wine with fish can be trickier than what you may think – as there are different groups of fin fish, from flaky tilapia to steak-like swordfish, with a wide range of potential for wine pairings. Besides the choice of fish, the sauce also affects the taste immensely. Even with that said, as a general rule white wines pair best with fish.
As red wine contains a higher level of tannins which interact with fish oils in our palate, the interaction of this pairing can leave a metallic aftertaste in the mouth. So it is better to pair a fish meal with a refreshing, delicate white wine with low tannins – such as Vinho Verde, Sauvignon Blanc and Alvarinho.
Pairing wine with meat
Typically a meat dish asks for a red wine – the trick to getting this pairing right is to match the intensity of the dish with the wine, so it can either be a light, medium or full-bodied red, depending on the richness of the dish’s flavor.
We can choose our red wine according to the type of meat we’re going to prepare:
– Lean cuts of beef ask for light or medium-bodied reds with higher acidity that will cut through the texture of the lean meat (round steak, sirloin, round roast);
– Fatty cuts of beef work great with bold red wines with high tannin that work as a palate cleanser from the fattiness of the meat (filet mignon, porterhouse steak, t-bone steak, ribeye steak);
Even with these guidelines, you can pretty much pair your meal with any type of wine you want. Break the rules to your heart’s desire and have fun!
Want to learn more about wines, the winemaking process and the adventure that is winemaking? Get a guided tour through a Wine Estate in the sunny Algarve, taste some wines and stock up your cellar with top-quality wines from Quinta dos Vales – one of the oldest wineries in the South of Portugal.