Pairing wine with food can seem quite complex, however, once you know the basics, it becomes quite a simple and enjoyable process. The first step is understanding the different components of wine and food. Wine flavours are derived from five different components: sugar, acid, fruit, tannin, and alcohol. Foods also have flavour components, such as fat, acid, salt, sugar, and bitter. For a successful wine and food pairing you need to ensure that there are complementary components, as well as an added focus on richness and texture. These flavours can be similar or contrasting, depending on your tastes and how adventurous you feel.
Once you understand the different components of wine and food, it all comes down to only six basics of pairing them, and we’ve included wine varieties from Chile’s top producer (and one of my personal favourite), Concho y Toro, to help you make your wine pairing decisions.
Many of our favourite foods, such as meat and dairy products, contain high levels of fat. Wine doesn’t contain fat, so other elements must be used to balance out the fatty elements in the food. Select a wine that has high acidity to balance out the fat, cut it with tannins, or match the fatty richness with alcohol. Try the Marques de Casa Concha Cabernet Sauvignon with a rich steak for a well-balanced pairing.
If you’re a fan of the salty-sweet flavours of caramel popcorn or candied bacon, then pairing the perfect wine with your food could make for a wonderful dining experience. Although salty foods often upset the balance of some wines, pairing foods high in salt with a sweet wine, like Lake Harvest, can have extraordinary and unique results. Sparkling wines are also a winner with salty food as the carbonation relieves your palate of too much salt and adds a range of complementing textures. Pairing a Subercaseaux Grande Cuvee with crispy udon noodles, seasoned with nori salt, could be the perfect balance for you. Acidic wines also pair well with briny foods such as oysters as they balance the rich ocean taste for a cleaner flavour.
Most people would just take the easy route and pair a dessert with a sweet wine. But, here’s where you actually have to be more careful: the intensity of sweetness can play a huge role in the wine decision making. Pairing a sweet dessert with a wine that isn’t sweet enough to complement the rich dessert may result in the wine tasting bland. On the other hand, pairing a sweet dessert with a very sweet wine may be too much sweet on the palate. Also, be wary of pairing chocolate and red wine, which many people think is a staple combination. Combining a dark chocolate with a dry red wine can have disastrous results. A recommended option is the Don Melchor Cabernet Sauvignon.
Acidity is key to adding that fresh tang to food as well as wine, much like using lemon on fish. When pairing acidic food with wine make sure that the perceived acidity of the wine is equal to or greater than the acidity of the dish, otherwise the wine will be bland and tasteless. White wines, such as the Terrunyo Sauvignon Blanc, offer the acidity needed to complement acidic dishes.
In the wine industry, bitter flavours tend to be avoided. Bitterness in wines point to unripe grapes, and unlike sugar elements in wine and food, bitterness doesn’t balance itself out, it only doubles up, producing even more bitter food.
When comparing textures, think about light and heavy. Pair light foods with light wines, and heavy foods with heavy wines, it’s really as simple as that. If you’re feeling a bit adventurous you can experiment with contrasting light foods with heavy wines, and vice versa. But, be warned, this can be tricky, so be prepared to fail a few times before finding that perfect contrasting match. When we talk about texture in wine we tend to use the term full or light-bodied. Try a light-bodied Pinot Noir, such as Concha y Toro’s Marque de Casa Concha Pinot Noir with lighter foods, or a full-bodied Syrah, like the Grava Del Maipo with heavier foods.
As with most things, the rules don’t always apply, so experiment with different combinations and you will soon have your own food and wine recommendations to rival any good sommelier.