You’ve been picking up a bottle of wine along with all the rest of your groceries for years. But have you been doing it right? Ever wondered why certain wines taste so good with certain foods? You’re not alone. The answers are as simple and complex as the varietals you choose with your meal.
Let’s get right down to the meat. No, really, should we be drinking reds with our thick steak and why? It’s all about the tannins – a wine’s pucker power so to speak, which is derived from the grapes’ skins, stems and seeds. Tannins in red wine are powerful, and frankly overpowering for something as light and flaky as a white fish, says Chef Lucia Miltenberger, culinary instructor at The Art Institute of Colorado. “Tannins love a nice marbled ribeye,”she says.
Just when things are getting juicy, it’s time for a chemistry lesson. “Food changes wines in very predictable, scientifically proven ways, and that can be for better or for worse,” says Chef Jane Nickles, culinary academic director at The Art Institute of Austin, a branch of The Art Institute of Houston.
Take acidic foods like salad dressing, ceviche or anything vinegary. If you pair them with an acidic wine like a sauvignon blanc, pinot grigio or a riesling, it will make the wine less acidic – and that’s a good thing. If you’re serving sweeter foods, don’t serve a dry wine like a cabernet sauvignon, merlot or chardonnay, since the sweeter food will make your wine taste less sweet.
Chef Larry Canepa, culinary instructor at The Art Institute of Phoenix, says it’s really all about the sauce. “If you’re serving a heavy white sauce like an alfredo, choose a crisp white wine with some acidity to balance out the richness and fat of the dairy-based sauce,” he says. Conversely, if you’re serving an acidic tomato sauce, balance it out with a tannic red wine.
Another rule of thumb Canepa uses is to pair the dish with a wine from the same region. “If you’re cooking up northern Italian fare, pick out a wine from that region in Italy,” he says.
And if you’re just starting to delve into wines, Miltenberger recommends some balanced whites and reds that both newcomers and wine connoisseurs can enjoy. “If you haven’t had a lot of wine, you could be turned off by the dryness, so a nice balanced riesling or a Vouvray from the Loire Valley in France are a good start. For reds, try an Oregon Pinot Noir or a Beaujolais or Rose d’Anjou from France.” Not only will your palate be happy, but so will your pocketbook. Miltenberger says most of these wines retail for $10 to $15.
With that kind of price point, Canepa’s philosophy is on target, “Wine is not a luxury or an indulgence, it’s an ingredient.” And Nickles sums it up, “The bottom line is simple, food and wine go well together. You can serve any food with any wine and have a better meal.”