Food and Wine in Balance – Interesting Knowledge

Jerry Comfort from Beringer Winery

We all have been taught that white wines go with fish and red wines go with meat (red meat especially) and never the two shall cross.  But my recent Food and Wine in Balance seminar at the Vancouver Playhouse International Wine Festival tore down that pairing barrier.  So you can enjoy a California Cabernet Sauvignon with a steamed fillet of sole.  Really!

Our speaker with Mr. Jerry Comfort, the head/executive sommelier at Beringer Winery in California.  He brought with us the following wines to taste with our food samples:

  • Beringer White Zinfandel 2010
  • Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009
  • Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010
  • Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006
  • Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008

The Food & Wine Balance Rules

First the dominant taste in your dish will change all wines in the same way but to a different degree.  For example, sweetness in your dish will make all wines taste sour (or less sweet).   Your goal is to find a dish that doesn’t change the flavour of the wine too much, as to impair the pairing.

Beringer flight of wines

Second, sweet food can make wine taste sour.  I know I just mentioned it, but previously as an example of the first rule. How does sweetness make wine taste sour?  The sweet food makes our tongue’s tastebuds used to the sweet taste so that we don’t taste the sweetness in the wine.  If you want to taste the sweetness of a wine with a sweet dish, e.g. a dessert, then the wine must be sweeter than the dish.

Third, sourness in a dish makes wine softer, less acidic tasting.  As an example of these last two rules, we tasted the Beringer Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2009 with a sweet slice of apple and with a sour wedge of lemon. The Sauvignon Blanc became extremely sour tasting after eating the apple, while the wine became very soft, and you could even taste sweetness from the wine after trying the wine with the lemon.  On it’s own this wine had passion fruit and grapefruit aromas.  High acidity with tropical fruit and vanilla flavours.

Food for wine pairing

Fourth, sweet wines can also make red wines taste more bitter.  Toasted barrels used in red wines leave bitterness on your tongue.  We tested this rule by trying a Beringer Napa Valley Pinot Noir 2006 with some apple and some lemon.  The apple made the Pinot Noir bitter tasting, while the lemon made the Pinot Noir taste soft.  As Jerry, our instructor stated, “Sour food is our friend”. The Pinot Noir on its own had nice violets aroma.  Cinnamon, cloves, soft and round on the palate.  We tried the same test to the Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon 2008.  It tasted very dry, tannic and bitter with the apple, yet was quite soft on the palate with the the lemon.

How can sweetness in food make wines both sour and/or bitter?  Well these flavours in the wine were already there.  Sweetness makes these characteristics in the wine even stronger.

Fifth, salt blocks bitterness and acidity.  So salt can soften tannins in red wines, along with lemon.  From this, it would make sense that if you have a dish with low or no salt, that you should pair it with a wine that has little or no oak.  If you can’t eat salt due to health concerns, use acidity to tame those tannins.

As a test of this salt and acidity balancing out bitterness, we had a steamed piece of white fish that we each added lemon and salt.  We then ate a piece of this seasoned fish and a sip of the Beringer Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.  The pairing worked wonderfully.  Everything was in balance.

We also tried adding some salt and lemon to grilled steak and eating this seasoned steak with a Beringer Napa Valley Chardonnay 2010.  The Chardonnay on it’s own had vanilla, less and tropical fruit aromas.  Round with medium acid, vanilla (from oak) and tropical fruit flavours. The steak did not overpower the Chardonnay.

Sixth, spice (such as black pepper) does not affect sweetness or fruitiness in wine, but does taste spicer with red wines.  We tried some cheese with a black pepper rind with the Beringer California White Zinfandel.  This off-dry wine did not make the pepperiness go away, you just tasted the sweetness in the wine, which then wore off and the pepperiness reappeared.  This cheese with black pepper tasted more spicy with the Cabernet Sauvignon.

How do you deal with spiciness? Again through the proper addition of acidity and salt balanced out the spicy food so that they had less effect on the wine’s flavours, so the wine tasted good.  Adding some lemon juice and salt to the pepper rind cheese made a very nice pairing with the Cab.

Take Away from this Seminar

My take away from this seminar is that you really can enjoy more than one type of wine with a dish, as long a the dish has an appropriate salt & acid balance.  This is important, if you are having a party for example, and you have some people that prefer red wines while others prefer white wines.  Through the proper balancing of the food’s flavours, you can make a dish that both types of wines lovers will love even more.

If you have food with low salt, you may choose a high acid wine, or a wine with low oak. A dish that is very salty would do better with a fortified or a dessert wine (think salty cheese and port).

Overall I thought that this was a really different food & wine pairing event, and one which I would like to try on my own now.  Enjoy!

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