How to pair your wine with food
Tasting the wine before engaging it with food is key
I write this after giving a workshop at Vinexpo Explorer in Austria last month.
My workshop was entitled Wine Pairing 101, 201 & 301, like in a university course.
The starting point when pairing wine with food is to first taste the wine before engaging it with the food.
Taste the wine and log its flavours, texture and personality into the memory bank.
That way, when you subsequently introduce the wine to the food, you will know how its taste has altered - how the wine behaves, misbehaves or become enhanced and enchanted with the food.
Three possible scenarios occur when you pair wine with food.
The first is an accident or a collision. A Master of Wine (MW) once said that champagne goes with everything.
The single most important consideration in pairing red wine with food is the state or condition of its tannins.
Really? Would you really want to drink a frisky, zippy, high-acid bubbly with a piece of steak or Cantonese roast goose?
The meat will just bounce off the champagne.
Another horrible head-on collision would be pairing a full-bodied Barossa Valley Shiraz or Chateauneuf-du-Pape with raw oysters or belly tuna sashimi.
The reaction will be so fishy or metallic that you will need a gas mask to purify the air from your breath.
The second scenario is what I call a "Happy Coexistence".
The wine tastes the same when paired with the food and the food remains just as it tasted before being matched with the wine.
Nothing changes, but also nothing is gained. This may be better than an accident, but it's essentially a neutral situation.
The third possibility is the ideal. This is where the wine draws out extra flavours from the food which were not there when the food was tasted on its own.
The food returns the favour by coaxing out nuances in the wine which were previously hidden. Wine and food have discovered chemistry.
In Vienna, one such heavenly match was the stir-fried fish fillet with ginger and spring onion with Laurenz V Charming 2010, a buttery, creamy, round, supple Gruner Veltliner.
The single most important consideration in pairing red wine with food is the state or condition of its tannins. For a dish to pair well with wine, the tannins need to be resolved and evolved, and be smooth and melded with the fruit of the wine.
If the tannins are edgy and roaring, it's World War III between wine and food.
At Vinexpo Explorer, the tea-smoked duck was positively in love with Schneider Thermenregion Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, whose tannins were smooth, soft and silky.
In Chinese cuisine, soya sauce is a major component of cooking. Soya sauce, being fermented, adds a considerable, sometimes even pronounced, taste to the ingredients of a dish.
If you used salt instead of soya sauce to cook the same ingredients, it becomes relatively easier to pair the food with wine.
Salt is considerably neutral in taste compared to soya sauce.
While wine pairing is not an exact science, it's not anything goes either. One way to make red wine more agreeable with fish is to braise the fish, deep-fry it in a batter, or serve the fish with a sauce of the same red wine.
The writer is a lawyer and a wine consultant at FairPrice. He is also the wine columnist at Lianhe Zaobao.
A Master of Wine once said that champagne goes with everything. Really? Would you really want to drink a frisky, zippy, high-acid bubbly with a piece of steak or Cantonese roast goose?
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