Before we dig into the complicated world of all the different wine flavors, aromas and other memorizable facts, let’s look at which characteristics you will want to identify in each wine in order to guess (yes, guess) at whether or not it will complement or sabotage a particular food taste.
Taste, sip, taste, sip, taste…
To keep things simple, you want to match the weight (light, medium, full body) of the wine with the weight of the food, and the acidity level (low, medium, high) of the wine with the acidity level of the food (savory, slightly acidic, acidic). Of the two factors, weight and acidity, acidity is the most important. If you can learn the acidity levels of various grapes and the weights of the wines made by those grapes, guessing at the body and acidity level of the food from the ingredients stated will usually work out to identify which wines will taste best with which food.
Experience from our wine appreciation classes suggests that most of the time a matched food will bring the wine into balance for a person even rather than improving the taste of the food. Conversely in a bad pairing, the wine tastes worse when taken with food that does not match the acidity and sweetness level. Keep in mind that the ability of food to bring a wine into better balance for an individual depends on that individual’s taste preferences in the first place. If someone has a taste preference for a savory, oaked Chardonnay, they will declare it in balance even with a highly acidic food that changes the taste of the wine for the worse. Someone else who prefers a highly acidic Sauvignon Blanc as their usual sipping wine will likely declare the wine in balance even with a savory, buttery or creamy sauce. However, these are the exceptions. Most people will enjoy wines whose acidity levels match the acidity levels of the food.
Many experts who down play the importance of food and wine pairings try to make their favorite meditation wines go with any food they eat. But for most people, a food wine that they normally would not sip alone, tastes much better to them if the acidity of the food is matched to the acidity of the wine. Thus it opens the range of wines consumed because an “ok” type of wine is made much more delightful when matched with a complementary food or sauce.
High Acid, Light Bodied – Vino Verde, Albariño, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling (dry), NV Brut Sparkling
Medium Acid, Light Bodied – Vernaccia, Assyrtiko, Sauvignon Vert/Tocai Friulano, Vidal, Inzolia
Low Acid, Light Bodied – Soave/Garganega, Macabeo/Viura, Riesling (off dry), Muller-Thurgau, Vintage Brut Sparkling
High Acid, Medium Bodied – Pinot Blanc, Grüner Veltliner, Chenin Blanc, Seyval Blanc, Torrontes,
Medium Acid, Medium Bodied – Falanghina, Verdejo, NV Extra dry Sparkling
Low Acid, Medium Bodied – Moscato/Muscat, Grenache Blanc, Arneis, Malvasia, Sherry (dry/off dry), Vintage Extra Dry Sparkling
High Acid, Full Bodied – Chardonnay (unoaked), White Bordeaux, White Rhone,
Medium Acid, Full Bodied – Pinot Gris/Pinot Grigio, Chardonnay (lightly oaked)
Low Acid, Full Bodied – Viognier, Chardonnay (Malolactic,oaked), Semillon, Gewurtztraminer, Traminette, Marsanne, NV SEC Sparkling
Medium + Acid(2), Light Bodied – Pinot Noir, Red Burgundy, Blaufrankisch, Sparkling Shiraz,
Medium Acid(3), Light Bodied – Beaujolais/Gamay Noir, Zweigelt, Lambrusco (dry)
Low Acid, Light Bodied – Schiava, Portugieser, Mavrodaphne, Lambrusco (off dry)
Medium + Acid(2), Medium Bodied – Agiorgitiko, Barbera, Sangiovese, Valpolicella, Chambourcin
Medium Acid(3), Medium Bodied – Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Pinotage, Lagrein
Low Acid, Medium Bodied – Tempranillo, Garnacha/Grenache, Valdiguie,
Medium + Acid(2), Full Bodied – Brunello, Barolo, Nebbiolo, Côtes du Rhône, Refosco, Norton/Cynthiana, Tannat, Nero d’Avola, Mourvèdre/Monastrell
Medium Acid(3), Full Bodied – Petit Sirah, Zinfandel, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Meritage, Bordeaux
Low Acid, Full Bodied – Merlot, Carménère, Montepulciano, Dolcetto
1 – From De Long’s Grape Varietal Table (http://www.delongwine.com/wgvt.php – accessed 12/16/2010)
2 – For red wine and food pairings, treat medium+ acid as high acid to match with more acidic foods.
3 – For red wine and food pairings, treat medium acid as either low acid to match with more savory/low acid foods or with medium acid foods.