People love a good glass of wine with their food. Whether it’s a red wine with a savoury steak or white Chablis paired with fresh fish, thousands of hungry patrons match their favourite meals with the perfect brand of wine. And when it comes to the perfect wine, the comparison of red vs white wine never gets old.
Sipping on a glass of wine has been popular all through history. As the process of winemaking became easier, the number of people who patronised wine increased over time. There have been great strides taken for wine lovers who want to know which wines to choose for their particular meals or desserts. Culinary classes have popped up in universities and online tutorials are everywhere for those who want to know all about their wines.
Because there are so many options, an important question must be answered. Why does wine go so well with so many entrees? Aside from the usual glass of water, no other beverage is considered to be as affluent or highly regarded as when it comes to adding wine to the table.
The answer may come from the actual kind of wine being paired with the meal. For instance, a red wine’s flavour can vary from a sweet-smelling Bordeaux blend to a dry fruity Pinot Noir. Red wines can also include Cabernet Sauvignon, and dozens of other types to choose from.
The same can be said for white wine, and rose. As such, choosing a variant of wine can be as complex as choosing what you want for your entree. It depends on your personal taste, and what you crave at that moment.
The true reason, however, why wine goes so well with entrees is that it complements the food itself, through three factors of acidity, sweetness, and tannins.
When pairing wines with any kind of food, acidity plays a dominant part. This is because acid helps to heighten any sensitivity of assorted flavours. The mouth responds with salivating glands when it becomes activated by acidity. This, in turn, stimulates the appetite.
In a glass of wine, there are three kinds of acid that attribute to our tastebuds. They are malic (i.e., a green apple), lactic, (i.e., milk), and tartaric (i.e., bitterness.)
When the food is extremely fatty or salty, or rich and oily, the acid in the wine can break the heaviness of the food and lighten the taste in the mouth. Such an example would be the addition of a lemon wedge sprinkled over oysters or fish.
If a wine is therefore less tart than the entrée it is served with, it will appear to be weak and taste lifeless. If the wine is too tart then it may be paired with a dish that is already acidic and tart. The food will then soften the wine, helping to complement each other in balancing the acidity and letting other tastes come through.
It is because grapes have so much sugar that they are perfect for making wine. While the fruit is being fermented, the sugar content is then broken up and changed by yeast into carbon dioxide and ethanol alcohol. Along with the fructose in the grapes is glucose. This is the primary sugar found in all wine grapes. However, in wine, glucose has a less sweet taste than fructose.
Interestingly, most humans are less sensitive to sweetness in taste compared to sourness or bitterness. The majority of people can detect the sugar in wine but it only bothers them 2% of the time. However, when a wine is bitter or sour, the mouth is even more affected by the taste, which can cause even more problems. Components, like acidity and tannins, can also mask the sweetness of glucose in the wine.
Sweet wines can be described as off-dry with only a hint of sugar, semi-dry that is only medium sweet, and bone dry when the sugar is fully fermented. Wines that are sweet need to be sweeter than the entrees they are paired with.
A glass of vintage brut champagne must not be matched with a sweet cake you often find in events like weddings. This will make the wine tart and the cake taste funny. With most pairings, a sweet wine can balance out and alleviate spiciness and heat.
This is why many sugary wines are used in many Asian and Spanish cuisines. The taste of sweet wine also contrasts with salty components, making it perfect for pairing with Stilton cheese.
It can highlight the mild sweetness in some food and can also contrast with salt, similar to the European custom of pairing salty Stilton cheese with a sweet Port.
Tannins are what give wine its structure and backbone. They are generally detected by the sensation of puckering in the mouth. Although they cannot be directly tasted or even smelled, they are perceived by the overall sensation of bitterness and dryness in the body.
This happens due to the tannins reacting with proteins that are found in saliva. Although the tannins may help in ageing wine, and providing structure, they can also overwhelm a great many entrees.
Tannins tend to add a chalky, gritty texture to your taste. They add to the idea of weight to a wine, also known as “body.” Tannins originate from the stems and skins of the grapes, but also can come from contact with the oak in the barrels during the ageing system.
When wine with high tannin levels is paired with entrees with high fat and protein, the wine will appear to taste softer and more delicate. If the wine is paired with dishes that have no protein, such as vegetarian meals, the bitterness will overwhelm the tastebuds and the wine will taste dry and astringent.
Cooking methods have an effect on how tannins play with an entree too. Blackening and grilling may add a bitter component to an entrée. This can assist a concentrated and tannic wine. However, white fish can make the same wine taste very metallic or harsh.
When pairing a highly tannic wine with food, it is best to stick with entrees that are fatty or carry great amounts of protein. Beware of dishes that are too spicy or sweet because they will come across unpleasant and distasteful.
While so many people enjoy a glass of wine every evening to relax and unwind, wine can be the perfect complement for any entrée that is served for dinner or supper. By paying attention to a wine’s acidity, sweetness, or tannin level, your choice for the perfect pairing can be determined and can help you with future success with your meals.