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How to make awesome food and wine pairings: read this

Welcome to Wine by Alex, the show to watch to take your wine game to the next level! Today you’re watching the first episode of #Askwinebyalex of 2021. I’ve got a question from Alessio of @alevalente91:

« Alex, can you remind me of the basics of food and wine pairing? »

Alessio, that’s such a great question! I’ve done a few posts about this topic a while ago. And I was actually thinking to do a video to refresh the information. So you’re right on time!

Few things to take into account for food & wine pairings

Everyone’s perception and taste are different

Some people are very sensitive, others don’t. The same level of sweetness or acidity can be perceived totally differently by two persons. On top of that, we all have our own personal taste. Some people like bitterness, others don’t. Every one of us is totally different. So you might enjoy your pairings, but it may not be the case of the people around you.

Food is generally responsible of bad interaction, not wine

Food and wine have a mutual influence on each other. The goal here is to have more pleasure having food and wine together, rather than separately. And also to avoid any unfortunate pairings.

white table with red wine, cheese, bread, grapes and corkscrew

Now that everything is settled, let’s dive into the basics of food and wine pairing! You’ve got to understand there are 2 elements in food that will improve wine and 2 elements that will spoil it.

The 2 wine-friendly elements in food: acidity and saltiness

I’ll start with the 2 elements that will improve the wine you’re tasting: acidity and saltiness.

They increase pleasant sensations in wine: sweetness, fruitiness and body. They also decrease the unpleasant sensations in wine, like astringency, bitterness and too strong acidity.

Salty meals go with basically every wine and the great thing is that they’ll enhance wine aromas. So it’s all beneficial to you!

Be careful to pair acid meals with wines that are even more acidic. Otherwise, they’ll just seem flat.

  • Think about Champagne, Muscadet, Sauvignon Blanc, Albarino, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo, Pinot Noir,…

The 2 elements unfavourable to wine: sweetness and umami

Now let’s talk about the 2 elements in food that will be unfavourable to wine: sweetness and umami.

Not only they increase unpleasant sensations in wine: astringency, bitterness, too strong acidity, alcohol burn. But they also decrease pleasant sensations like sweetness, fruitiness and body… So as you probably guessed by now, they’re quite hard to pair with wine.

But, what’s umami?

It’s a taste that combines saltiness and bitterness. You’ll find it a lot in Asian food like soy sauce or miso soup, but also in asparagus, eggs, mushrooms and oysters.

You need to pair sweet meals with wines that are even sweeter. This way, you’ll increase their fruitiness and balance the acidity that might be increased by the food.

Meals that contain umami need to be paired with very fruity wines and, if you want a red wine, choose one that has low tannins. This way you’ll increase the fruitiness and diminish the astringent sensation of tannins.

  • When you have meals with umami, think about Beaujolais, unoaked Pinot Noir, or Chardonnay from Mâcon.
  • When you have sweet meals, go all out with a Sauternes, Barsac, Tokaji Aszu or a PX.
Vinsanto with caramelized oranges
Vinsanto is another great example for sweet wine!

Other consideration you can take into account

Spicy food

It can be tricky to pair spicy food with wine because the spiciness increases alcohol burn and bitterness of a wine.

  • Think about wines with low tannins and low alcohol. Also try to choose very fruity wines with a bit of sweetness, like Pinot Gris.

Similar aromatic intensity

I said earlier that food and wine pairings are supposed to give you more pleasure than if you were having the food, or the wine, separately. This means you also have to consider the aromatic intensity when you make your pairings! You don’t want to have one element hidden by the other one. So try to match the aromatic intensity of both elements:

  • Low aromatic intensity meals (oysters, seashell,…) >> low aromatic intensity wines (Blanc de Blancs Champagne, Muscadet, Chenin Blanc,…)
  • Strong aromatic intensity meals (game,…) >> aromatic wines (Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah,…)

Fat and acidity

Another thing you can play with is fat and acidity. Fat food will tend to get heavy on your palate, whereas wine’s acidity will cut through it and refresh your palate.

Creamy meals, junk food or chocolate >> acidic wines (Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chenin Blanc,… for whites; and Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Pinot Noir,… for reds)

brunch (eggs, salmon, avocado toasts) with champagne

Regional food & wine pairings

The last thing I want to tell you is that « what grows together goes together ». So consider doing regional food and wine pairings. The classic French examples are:

  • goat’s crottin from Chavignol with Sancerre or Pouilly-Fumé
  • oysters with Muscadet Sèvre-et-Maine
  • foie gras with Loupiac or Monbazillac
  • comté cheese with Vin Jaune
  • Burgundy beef stew with bourgogne Pinot Noir,…

Final advice: just have fun! 😉

Now you know there are plenty of things to take into account when you pair food with wine: personal sensitivies, preferences, basic rules… But since everyone is different, some people might actually enjoy strong or unusual associations. In fact, most people will like most food with most wines.

Don’t lock yourself up into the classic pairings like red wine with meat and white wine with fish… Just try new things, be adventurous and have fun! Worst case scenario: your pairing doesn’t work. So what? Now you know it doesn’t work, next time you’ll try something else! At least you tried something, instead of playing it safe and never discover anything!!

Well, that’s all for today! I hope this will help you make better pairings for you and your loved ones!

Now, I’d love to hear from you.

What’s your favourite food and wine pairing of all time? Do you rather follow these rules or play it wild? 

Let me know in the comments below!

Thank you so much for watching this episode and I’ll see you soon on Wine by Alex!


Alexia Hupin

P.S.: Share your questions in the comments. I’ll answer in the next videos!

P.P.S.: Watch the previous episode on How to retain information you learn easily!

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