You see every dish is dynamic…they are all made up of parts that sum up a truly tasty whole. The same goes for wine. It's grown in soils, in different parts of the world, in different climates, in different barrels, for all different amounts of time. These ingredients make up the whole that is then placed into a bottle that lands on your table, onto your taste buds and so on. When food and wine are combined, the dynamics in both can change, resulting in a new and completely individual experience.
One possibility is for the food to exaggerate a characteristic of the wine. For example, think about eating blueberries and washing it down with a California Zinfandel. You may as well be drinking a container of Juicy Juice with all that berry overload.
On the flip side, the food could also diminish a characteristic of the wine. When you have a bold tannic wine, such as a Barolo or a Bordeaux, you will want to pair that with a protein so that it can soften the tannins and round out the flavors.
Another possibility is that the flavor intensity of the food can cancel out the flavor of the wine (and vice versa). If you're drinking a very spicy Mexican dish, with a soft Pinot, you will most likely only taste the spicy hot Mexican dish.
Ideally, the food and wine can interact perfectly, creating a whole new experience that's better than having the two separately. This is what we are all in search of when trying to pair food with wine.
I've taken the liberty to list general taste “classes” of wines with general pairing options below. Take a look and try them out if you want.
Generally, acidity is a characteristic used when talking about racy white wines such as a sauvignon blanc or sancerre. These wines tend to enhance salty flavors, therefore can be paired well with oysters or any kind of shell fish. Even a salad with vinaigrette dressing would play nicely against the dry acidity of these wines.
Alcoholic wines such as big California or fortified wines are typically grown in warm climates, which ripen the fruit more and give the wines a bigger, bolder taste. Generally, these wines couple well with foods that are just slightly sweet. Because they have a strong, raisiny flavor, you would probably want to steer clear of any type of dish that's lightly flavored. These wines tend to have ripe fruit notes, so something that's just slightly sweet would pair well, dark chocolate being a good example.
Most of us know that dry, tannic red wines are perfect with red meat proteins. As was mentioned previously, protein diminishes tannins and thus the flavor of the wine is rounded out. These wines tend to take away the perception of sweetness, therefore go ahead and try them out with your richer fattier dishes like BBQ ribs.
Moving on, we have wines that often carry a sweetness to them and can include dessert wines (Cali White Zin and many trocken Rieslings). These wines make saltier foods more appealing and can also go well with light desserts. Try having an Amarone while noshing on salted peanuts or pretzels sometime. The effect can be that it makes the wine more fruity than sweet.
As I said before, there are no real rules in wine but this is a time when the phrase, “if it ain't broke, don't fix it” comes to mind. There's no sense in messing up something that is already perfectly wonderful. While I encourage everyone to go forth and explore, I still want you all to know that there may be nothing better than an aged Barolo with a Peter Lugar Steak done medium rare. YUUUUUUUM.
New York Wine Co. in Manhattan. So far so good!