When we talk about wine pairing, you surely think that red wine goes with meat and white wine goes with fish. However, the reality is that the art of pairing goes much further, and has even become a subject of controversy within the world of oenology.
The truth is that, although there are certain rules that must be followed, pairing is a matter of taste, after all. Experiencing the combination of different aromas and flavors is a subjective task, so we should not close ourselves to anything.
Once the bases of the pairing are understood, it is true that we can give you some advice to better understand how the combination of flavors and aromas between different wines and foods works.
The first thing to keep in mind is that all menu items are part of a global experience. In the same way that when we think of a menu we start with a light starter, to continue with a powerful main course followed by a dessert that reduces the heaviness a little; we must think wines work in the same way. In other words, we will never serve a full-bodied wine first and then a smooth Verdejo. We have to pay special attention to the intensity of the dishes to balance the intensity of the wines accordingly.
As a general rule, this would be a correct order to present our wines on a menu: white or rosé wine, young red wine, more mature reds, and, to top it off, sweeter and more generous wines.
But how can we know if a wine is more or less intense with the naked eye? Actually, it’s easier than it sounds. Don’t we all understand why a beef stew with potatoes is heavier than a green salad? Well, the same thing happens with wines. The intensity of the wine comes as a function of various factors (alcohol content, tannins, strain, aging…), which are what determine that we say that one wine has more body than another.
In general, the order of intensity is practically the same as the order in which we serve the wines on a menu. So, the lightest are the young white wines, rosé and sweet or sparkling, and the heaviest or intense are, in order: the young reds, crianza, reserva and, finally, gran reserva. Pretty intuitive, right?
Once this is understood, we have to understand which wines pair best with what foods. As we mentioned at the beginning, there is no static law regarding the pairing of wines with food, but we can be guided by sensations and explain the most common associations that we know thanks to the trial and error of experienced sommeliers.
Basically, there are two ways of pairing: by association or by contrast. If we pair by association, it means that we are looking for complementary foods and wines. Either by color, temperature, texture, flavors… The important thing is that we pay special attention to the sensations that each wine and each food generates. For example, pairing desserts with sweet and fresh wines, white fish with white wines, red wines with red meat, etc.
If we pair by contrast, we will look for the opposite effect. We will try to find the balance between food and wine through opposite sensations. For example, if we have a very spicy dish, we should not pair it with a wine with a high alcohol content, since both elements produce a sensation of heat that is not very pleasant when eating. A better option would be to contrast with a drier white wine, to give a feeling of freshness and find that balance that we’re looking for.
In short, the best advice we can give you is to trust your own criteria and dare to experiment. As we said at the beginning, pairing is a matter of taste above all else. Trial and error is the best learning method in this area.