Wine pairing is an impressive and complicated art. Many burgeoning wine enthusiasts are turned off to the whole process because of the snobbery surrounding the art. But there is a new wave of sommelier that is bringing art to the common person. It’s not as difficult as it first appears. Wine is paired with food in a way that allows both drink and entree to compliment each other and create a kind of synergy that emboldens the flavors of both while moderating each other simultaneously.
To do this, it helps to have a good understanding of a wine’s flavor. And determining those characteristics is precisely why people spend so much time developing the art of wine tasting. In this article, we summarize the basics of wine flavor profiles and tasting methods in a technical way to help you upgrade your level of skill when it comes to wine and the culinary experience.
Start With Traditional Pairings
First things first. Which wine goes with which food? That’s the question of concern. Well, it depends on what culinary experience you’re going for. There are three basic kinds of pairings to choose from. There is the congruent pairing, which takes advantage of similar characteristics in boldness and flavor profile. And then there is the complementary pairing, which pairs two foods that share a few characteristics. Finally, there is the contrasting pairing that combines foods with oppositional profiles.
Congruent pairings augment the flavors that already exist within the food by doubling up so to say. They embolden the primary flavor features of the wine and entree because they both share the same traits. Red wine and red meats are classic congruent pairing that has a bold and powerful flavor profile. Not for the weak of heart!
Contrasted pairs are food and wine pairings that combine drastically different flavors to create a robust flavor palette that covers the full range of flavors. One such example is the classic combination of acidic white wine with relatively mild chicken or fish.
However, it’s always better to match the wine with the sauce instead of the meat. Or truly, it’s best to match the wine with the dominant flavors of the dish whatever form they may come in.
There are a few other tips to consider:
- Bitter wines go well with fatty foods. Bitter and fatty flavors cancel each other out to some extent. Bitter flavors can cut through the fat and stimulate the production of gastric fluids to better break down the oily contents of the dish.
- The wine should have similar intensity and it should be both sweeter and more acidic than the food it is paired with.
- Red wine tends to make congruent combinations while the others are better at contrasting combinations.
Ensure That the Wine Is Fresh and Properly Served
The wine starts to oxidize and lose its richness almost immediately. As soon as oxygen touches wine the process begins. A little bit of this is necessary, such as right as the bottle is opened and the air hits the surface of the wine in your freshly-poured glass. This creates a lot of the flavors that are so desirable. However, after a few moments, the process is detrimental.
This creates a unique challenge that sommeliers and wine manufacturers have to spend countless hours and untold fortunes to resolve. In the modern era, there are a few new solutions that have been implemented to reduce this consequence as much as possible.
Because of this problem, you may be tempted to buy a whole bottle and attempt to finish it off in one go. This may be a great idea for a dinner party, but it’s not such a good approach for a night out for two. It’s an even worse idea if it’s dinner for one.
Before choosing this route, be sure to ask the sommelier or bartender about their pouring method. Specifically, found out If they use a machine for wine by the glass or if they just pour a serving and cork it. If they employ the former, you can rest well knowing that each serving will be as fresh as a newly opened bottle. That’s because these machines don’t allow any oxygen to enter the bottle while still serving only a single glass at a time.
See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, Savor
When it comes to developing your tasting methodology it helps to remember the 5 S’s of wine tasting. First, you’ll want to look at the wine and determine its color, opacity, then particle sedimentation, and any film that rests on the surface.
Next, swirl the wine gently for a few moments to ensure it’s properly mixed and has had ample contact with the air to aromatize its components. Then, you’ll want to smell the newly aromatized constituents to get a hint of its ingredients.
Finally, take a small sip and savor the flavor. Roll it around all aspects of your tongue to get a sensation of the full range of flavor. Hold it in your mouth and breathe out of your nose to combine flavor and olfactory titillation to get the comprehensive flavor experience the wine provides.
Define the Essential Flavor Palette
Now that you’ve found the right pairing, learned to ensure quality, and have a good idea of how to sample the wine, it’s time to learn how to describe what you experience. Wine tasters typically break down a wine’s flavor profile into four parts.
- The fruit level
- The sweetness level
- The body profile
- The finish
The fruit level is typically broken down into two categories: Fruit-forward or Savory. There are lots of descriptive terms for red and whites to further break down these categories but the basics are simple. Fruit-forward wines smell and taste like fruit. While savory wines have earthy, woody, or herbal overtones.
The sweetness level is exactly as it sounds. It describes the sweetness of the wine and is described as either sweet or dry. Expanded descriptions will better define the wine as bone dry, dry, off-dry, or sweet.
The body profile is a complex aspect of wine tasting as it comprises several factors to contribute to an overall feel and texture. Light-bodied wines are thin and crisp and usually have a low tannin content. On the other hand, full-bodied wines are bold, rich in flavor, and have a high tannin content.
The final tasting element is the finish. The finish is the after-effect and taste. It’s important to take a break after sampling wine to develop your ability to define the finish. The finish can be brief and unremarkable or fantastically delightful. Popular terms to describe the finish include smooth, tart, sweet tannin, spicy, bitter, and more.
Using the things that you learned here, you should have a better idea of what’s going on in the wine world and now you might be able to keep up in the kitchen and at a sampling party. Remember to try out the classic pairings, ensure your wine’s freshness, sample the wine correctly after preparing and swirling it, and pay attention to the four levels of wine description. Doing these things will greatly expand your understanding and enjoyment of the wines you consume.
Photo by Zan on Unsplash
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