FOOD AND WINE PAIRING: A MATCH MADE IN HEAVEN... MAYBE.
Updated: Apr 8, 2022
Food and wine pairing, basically, is the process of matching food dishes with wine in order to enhance your dining experience. The objective of the exercise is elevating your dining experience that is, achieving a better sensory pleasure and a higher level of enjoyment.
The technique first. Simple, take a bite of food, complete it with a sip of wine and see if magic happens in your mouth. If it does, the Italians would say that food and wine have “married well”, in other words: they have produced an ideal match.
Ideal matches do not occur easily. Sid Goldstein (1947-2008), American culinary expert and wine & food educator, used to say: “the pairing of food and wine is a complex and highly inexact science…” Why is that? Because we all have our own opinions and palates and therefore we are naturally inclined to subjectivity: what is good to you may not be good for me. Besides, there are many variable factors that affect an individual's perception of flavor in wine. There are cultural, educational, chemical, physiological and psychological variables.
In principle, however, your palate should be able to tell you if you have made a good or bad decision whenever pairing your wine with your food, unless you are totally sensory impaired.
But then why certain wines make certain foods taste better and why certain foods bring out the best in certain wines?
Mouthfeel refers to the way foods feel in your mouth or the physical sensations in the mouth produced by a particular food and/or wine. Scientists believe foods that sit on different ends of the spectrum of taste create pleasant sensations when consumed with a specific wine, triggering a gratifying response in the mind. This is one of the ways it works: our saliva glands produce proteins to lubricate our mouths. When we eat greasy foods, for instance, our mouths over-salivate and make our tongues feel slippery. Wine's tannin and acidity counteract this slippery feeling by pulling out the proteins from our tongue. This reaction plays a crucial role when it comes to how people feel and interpret their perceptions about food and wine pairings.
So while there are detailed manuals, books, magazines, websites and infographics on how to pair food and wine available in bookstores and Internet, the sad news is that eventually you are left with your own judgment. The good news is that you can find your way through - or around it - by acquiring more knowledge about this subject, added to consistent quality drinking practices.
The most basic element of food and wine pairing is understanding the balance between the weight or body of the food and the weight or body of the wine. Beyond weight, flavors and textures can either be contrasted or complemented. From there a food and wine pairing can also take into consideration the sugar, acid, alcohol and tannins of the wine and how they can be accentuated or minimized when paired with certain types of food.
So the main concept behind pairings is that certain elements (such as texture and flavor) in both food and wine react differently to each other and finding the right combination of these elements will make the entire dining experience more enjoyable.
If in Puglia, grilled lamb ribs are usually paired with red Primitivo or if in Friuli, the prosciutto (cured ham) San Daniele is mainly paired with white Friulano you have a couple of great Italian established pairings called “classics”. Don’t forget, though, that any pairings that are considered as classics today emerged from the centuries-old relationship between a region's cuisine and its wines.
Wine matches food, and food is constantly searching for the best wine to be enjoyed with. The “marriage” of both elements, the point where there is no prevalence of one over the other but instead the creation of a new level of pleasure and fulfillment, that is considered the moment of perfect balance, of harmony.
In Italy, the intimate connection between food and wine is deeply embedded in the culture and is exemplified by the Country's many wine varietal and styles. Italians rarely dine without wine and a region's wine is often crafted to be food friendly. So if you're dining at an Italian resto, the wisest choice would be ordering an Italian wine and not a French, Chilean or whatever, which really makes a lot of sense even according to the "What Grows Together Goes Together" good, old principle.
This old world concept, though, might not apply to Filipino food for which you are therefore free to experiment. Whatever the wine you are going to choose I am certain that it will make your lechon-kawali taste better than if consumed with ice tea, coke or mango juice.
We like it paired with a red Refosco from Friuli, for example...