Food and wine matching means pairing food dishes with wine in order to enhance or contrast the flavor of either the food or the wine. A person who specializes in food and wine pairings is called a sommelier and usually works at fine restaurants.
Tip 1 – Balance in weight is key to enhancing flavor
The most basic element is the weight. A balance between the food and wine’s weight (or body). In wine, body is primarily the alcohol level but can be influenced by tannins as well as the wine making process.
For example an oaked Chardonnay made in a warm region will be heavier than a Chardonnay made in a stainless steel barrel in a cooler wine region. Usually counter-pairing, or pairing a heavy wine with a light dish, will result in one overwhelming the other.
The weight of a food is described in terms of flavor intensity. For instance hearty and robust meat dishes compared to delicate and subtle salads.
One key is determining the dominant flavor in a dish. The sauce may prove the dominant flavor instead of the meat. A light bodied dish may be served with a heavy sauce, in which case a full bodied wine would better balance the cream sauce.
Tip 2 - Common wine types and their relation to food
Next a short guide to the weight of different wines. Don’t think that by any means this list is exhaustive. Much depends on the actual varietal and wine region the respective bottle comes from, as well as other things:
Pinot gris, Pinot blanc, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc and Chablis all fit the category. There are some others like champagne and sparkling wines which are also light.
Medium to heavy whites
Not that numerous here. Mostly Beaujolais, Dolcetto and some varietals of Pinot noir fit this category.
Here is where reds shine. Chianti, Barbera, Burgundy, Chinon, Merlot, Pinot noir are all very famous red wines. I think these are the most served kinds of wine.
Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Port, Barbaresco are some of the more common.
Tip 3 – Dominance between food and wine
While theoretically it is possible to perfectly balance both the food and the wine it is unrealistic to perfectly predict how a dish will be and then pick a wine that fits it in it’s entirety.
Typically a food and wine pairing will usually focus on enhancing either the wine or the food. You want one of them to be the dominant flavor.
If you want to enhance the wine then you want a food that is slightly lighter in weight so it doesn’t compete with the wine but not too light so it doesn’t feel underwhelming.
If the focus you chose is the food then just apply the same thought process. Match a wine that has less body but not too light so as to feel flat. Remember that taste is subjective to context.
Tip 4 – Contrast or complement textures and flavors
After pairing the weight you can go a little deeper. Matching the textures and flavors is done using 2 strategies – contrast or complement.
Contrast focuses on the principle “opposites attract each other” so then you would bring together food and wine that contrast each other.
For example a crisp, acidic Sauvignon blanc will contrast a fish with a creamy sauce. While a creamy sauce fish dish will feel heavy the acidity in the Sauvignon blanc will give it a new and refreshing texture.
For the same example a complementary pairing would be a buttery Chardonnay. For the longest time the complementary strategy was preferred.
However, people have begun to experiment with the idea of contrast, similar to salty/sweet pairing from cooking.
Don’t think that there is only one way to pair a food. Generally both strategies will work. Also remember that a food dish has a lot more than just one flavor, so it is possible to enhance or contrast any of it’s characteristics. That is the beauty of food and wine matching.