A BRIEF GUIDE TO FOOD & WINE MATCHING
Three Key Rules
The most important thing to remember, as with anything to do with wine, is that inherently there is no right or wrong. It really is always a case of personal opinion so if you don't like white wine you are never going to end up worrying too much about whether an off-dry Riesling or Gewürztraminer is going to be the better match with your spicy fish noodles.
If you are thinking that you'd like to give food and wine matching a bit of a go then these are my THREE key rules to follow:
If however you have very delicately flavoured seafood you are going to want a delicate wine to go with it such as a rosé from Provence or a light, dry, crisp white wine. Rich, buttery chicken will suit a rich, buttery wine such as Chardonnay and so on. Some meats and fish where they have a medium texture and weight, such as turkey, can suit lighter reds or white wines and if a piece of fish was served with say chorizo, again a juicy red could work really well. Sometimes however if a dish is really rich and buttery, you might need a wine with crisper acidity to cut through the richness. I remember being served a fabulous risotto once -- creamy and buttery with mushrooms and truffles but rather than the rich round, textured white I was expecting the dish came with a crisp Italian white and it was perfection. The higher acidity cleansed the palate after every sip and didn't clash with the texture but this arguably takes a bit more confidence as it was served to me by one of the widely regarded sommeliers in the world who has a fair bit of experience!
1- Match the Weight
Match the weight of the wine with the weight of the food. This is a brilliant and simple tip to follow; for example if you have a big, meaty, juicy steak then you are going to need to match it ideally with a big, rich, chewy, meaty wine -- which is likely to be a red wine.
2- Choose The Dominant Flavour
If there is a lot going on in the dish and it is quite complicated then choose the dominant flavour and match the wine to that; it is the flavour that you taste on your palate last which is likely to be the dominant flavour and which needs the most serious consideration. This is where serving a red with something like cod and chorizo comes into play -- the chorizo is the strongest flavour and you will taste that last, so that will suit a red wine.
3- Think About the Provenance
Think a little bit about the provenance of the food and the wine that is typically found within that region, as the likelihood is that that is a safe place to start. Think seafood and oysters from the Loire with fresh Muscadet or Sauvignon Blanc or richly flavoured dishes from the south of France with meaty, chewy reds such as Fitou.
How Many Taste Buds Do I have?
If even these guidelines seem a little convoluted then there is a school of thought that believes if the food itself is properly balanced and seasoned - namely with acidity (lemon) and salt then any wine it is paired with will be softened and improved by the food. This is arguably why many meats, which can be rich in umami and create bitterness, are served with well-seasoned sauces.
Are you a supertaster?!
If you are picky both about what you eat and drink then it might not be because you are fussy, but because you might be... a supertaster!
How can I tell what type I am?
If you generally dislike bitter things such as coffee, green tea and dark chocolate along with strong green vegetables such as sprouts and sharp fruits like grapefruit, then it might be because you are extremely sensitive to these sorts of food (along with tannic red wines) because you have more taste buds, or papillae than the average person. This stands to reason therefore that you taste things more acutely as you have about 35 per 7mm diameter of your tongue.
People fall into one of three categories when it comes to their taste sensibility and ability:
Around 25% of people are supertasters (experience much greater intensity of flavour - around 3 times as much) and women are more likely to be supertasters.
A normal taster
This accounts for about 50% of people - so not to worry, that's most of us!
About 25% again are at the opposite end of the spectrum and are largely immune to bitterness.
Is there some way to test this?
There is a simple test that can be carried out at home to see which category you fall into, known as the blue dye test. Gently rub some blue food colouring onto your tongue and cut a hole in a piece of paper around 7mm diameter wide and place it on your tongue. This will make you look a bit silly, so make sure you have a friend nearby who can laugh at you!
The papillae will stay pink and you can then count them - a magnifying glass will make it easier! About 35 means you are a supertaster, 15+ is a normal taster and less than 15 you are a non-taster...
Does this affect my enjoyment of wine?
Not at all!
The sort of taster that you are will dictate what sort of wines you like with super tasters preferring red wines with low tannins and wines that are not too sweet but not overly acidic either (medium whites). Normal tasters can enjoy pretty much anything, personal preference aside, and a non-taster can go for the biggest, ball-busting reds going and think they are soft and supple!