There’s a science behind the pairing of food and wine. It has a little to do with the biochemistry of flavor profiles and a lot to do with the fact that human beings just like certain things served together. If you’re about to host a formal dinner party, here are a few tips for getting the pairings right.
1. Balance Your Taste Elements
There are five broad categories of taste: sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Some researchers have also suggested that a sixth taste, fat, should be added to the list, but it’s up to you whether you want to include it. When pairing food and drink, it’s important to balance these elements in a way that doesn’t overwhelm the diner with too much of one category. For example, if you’re serving a bitter arugula salad, don’t pair it with a bitter white wine.
2. Bring Out Subtle Flavors in Spices and Sauces
This is one of the big secrets of pairing flavors. Instead of focusing on your meats and veggies like everyone else, try to pair the flavors of your sauces, spices, glazes and marinades. Not only will it bring out the nuances of your food, but it will also ensure that your dishes complement each other all the way down to their smallest ingredients.
3. Mind the Heat
Alcohol tends to magnify the oil content of spicy, sizzling foods, so be careful about serving your jalapeno entree with a highly alcoholic wine. If your menu includes spicy dishes, pair them with wines that have a low alcohol content. The great thing about a formal dinner is that there are many courses to pair with many drinks, so even if you have to take it easy with certain dishes, you can always break out the harder wines to pair with others.
4. Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment
Even if you know the brand of the wine that you want to serve or the region that the vineyard has to be in, there are so many subtle differences in wine flavors that it pays to experiment with different types before the big day. For example, even if you’re centering your meal around a Sauternes, such as those from JJ Buckley Fine Wines, you might find that the tangy apricot of the 1982 Chateau Suduiraut is more pleasing to the palette than the lemon zest of the 2009 Sigalas Rabaud.
You don’t have to be a wine connoisseur to understand the art of pairing flavors. Even if you’re just beginning your journey as a foodie, everyone has to start somewhere, so use these tips to take your first steps into a more cultured life.