Food / Food as Science

Science of Food Pairings: The Wine Edition

W Tanvi Bahuguna_ A rachel hsu_ T wine pairings

Art by:  Rachel Hsu

Science of Food Pairings: The Wine Edition

Article by Tanvi Bahuguna, Photos by Ashley E. Mendez | Fall 2014

Whether you are at a restaurant or planning a dinner party at home, you’ll probably be in search for the perfect accompaniment to your meal. Tanvi gives us the facts behind the different types of wines, in addition to playing sommelier for a few dishes. Read on, and you might just surprise your family and friends with your extensive knowledge at your next dinner. 

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Wine, oh glorious wine. What makes this magic elixir so potent and powerful that we are drawn to enjoy a glass of it with our meals? An entire science actually exists behind various wine pairings, so before you open your latest bottle of Merlot, make it taste better with a more refined pairing.

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Wine flavors are derived from a variety of components such as tannins, fruit, sugar, acid, and alcohol. Food and wine are heightened through pairings in richness, textures and complementary components. Both similar and contrasting pairings can add a sophisticated depth to any meal.

However, special care should be taken to account for a certain food’s fat element (which can be cut by tannins), acidity (wine should be of the same acidity as the food to prevent the food from tasting bland), salt content (when in doubt go for a sparkling wine to clean the salt from the palate), sweetness (white wines are winners always) and texture (light foods with light wines and heavy foods with heavier wines) The chemicals in wine act naturally with various food flavors and can either complement a meal perfectly or simply ruin what could have been a great dining experience. The various flavor profiles must be examined individually in order to fully appreciate the pairing.

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Red wine is made from black grapes and the intense red color of the wine comes from the anthocyanin pigments present in the skin of the grape. As a result of the bold and deep flavors of red wine, most successful pairings of this wine type occur with meats, particularly red meats. Some recommendations for pairings of this type include pork chops with Pinot Noir Demi Glace, or lamb shanks with olives and Beaujolais.

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Rosé wine, a type of wine that incorporates some of the color of grape skins, is also one of the oldest varieties. These wines can be made still, sparkling, or semi-sparkling, and vary in their levels of sweetness. Many different types of grapes are used to make a rosé and these wines are usually sweeter than red wines, but not quite as sweet as most whites. Some recommendations for pairings include a simple tomato salad and Bandol Rosé, or a vegetable soup with Côtes de Provence.

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White wine, as the name suggests, is a type of wine that ranges in color from a straw yellow to a golden color. White wines are generally sweeter than other wines due to the sugar content, but contribute significantly to the development of flavors due to their aroma, acidity and their ability to soften meats and deglaze cooking juices. White wines can complement the freshest salads and bring out the natural flavors of the leanest meats. Some recommendations for pairings of this type include avocado, spinach and tomato crepes with New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, or a pesto pasta with Vermentino.

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Sparkling wines may range from dry styles to sweeter varieties and may be made from white or rosés. The most famous sparkling wine that is the classic champagne. Keeping the bubbliness from the carbon dioxide in mind, the following recommendations for pairings of this type include smoked salmon and caviar with Brut Blanc de Blancs, or a summer melon salad and prosciutto with Prosecco.

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Often times, we are able to decide for ourselves what flavors best agree with us, so we shouldn’t be afraid to experiment with bold and different combinations of food. If nothing else, experimenting lets one define and refine one’s palate, distinguish new flavors and most importantly, give the food purveyor a chance to drink more wine–always a great way to end the day.

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