The Fundamentals of Wine Pairing
Wine pairing is important aspect of a dinner party. Common sense dictates that the more refined the cuisine the better the quality of the wine should be. Consequently, circumstances and occasions are important considerations when choosing the most appropriate wine.
For informal or impromptu gatherings, where you are likely to have a single dish meal or tapas, it is recommended to opt for light and simple wines. For instance, young and slightly fruity red wines such as Beaujolais-Villages, Pinot Noir d’Alsace, or most Tempranillos could be enjoyed throughout the meal with cheese, charcuterie or savory pastries served before or at the end of the meal. These wines are best consumed at 12-14 °C. Bellet, Rosé deLoire or Côtes-du-Jura are light and fruity rosés that are suitable for informal gatherings as well. As to whites, Petit Chablis or Bourgogne Aligoté are fine choices.
For family gatherings or laid-back parties with many people, it is prudent to choose wines that are commonly known as “crowd pleasers”“ or “consensus” wines. Alsace and Muscadet are safe choices for whites. For red wines, Malbec and Cabernet Franc are also a prudent choice. Any medium-bodied fruity red wine, such as Bordeau Supérieur or Chianti for Italian wines, is an excellent choice.
For formal receptions and diners, the assumption is that you will prepare a gourmet menu. If your dishes are very flavored and fatty, you may opt for full-bodied, fruity reds. These wines are best served between 15-17 °C. For full flavored but not fatty dishes, you should try to serve complex characterful and tannic wines from the following appellations: Graves, Haut-Médoc, Margaux or Barolo for Italian wine. For slow cooked dishes, including coq au vin and roasts, try to choose complex but elegant wines if your budget allows it, of course. For instance, you can serve premier and grand cru of Burgundy such as Côte d’Or’s Gevrey-Chambertin or Vosne-Romanée.
Formal receptions or dinners require the host to be particularly selective to ensure that each course forms a perfect alliance with the wine of your choice. To do this, it is important to understand some fundamental principles for matching food with wines.
As a first rule of thumb, white wine should be served before red, young red wine should precede an older red wine, the lightest and simplest red wine should be served before a full-bodied and complex wine. A common mistake is to serve cocktails or spirits as an aperitif. Such aperitifs affects a palate’s ability to appreciate gourmet cuisine and good wines. A glass of Prosecco or Champagne is the best aperitif.
The second rule of thumb requires very flavorful dishes to be matched with wines that are complex and full-bodied (or characterful). Otherwise, your dish might overpower the wine or the wine might overpower your dish.
Third, taste buds are receptive to bitterness, salt, sourness, and sweetness. With salty dishes, fruity, thirst-quenching wines are best. For sweet dishes, such as Duck à l’Orange, you need soft and fruity wines. Riesling could be a suitable accompanying wine for such dishes as well. With dishes containing bitter ingredients, including artichokes, asparagus or endives, serve Muscat.
Finally, it is important to serve wines at the right temperature. Red wine should normally be served between 14°C or 57°F and 18°C or 64°F. Complex wines are served at the high end of this range and young wines are served at the lower end of the range. It is important not to serve wine above 18°C or 64°F so that the alcohol does not come to the fore and dominate the flavor. Rosés should normally be served between 10-12°C (50-54°F). White wines should be served between 8-12°C (46-54°F). Sparking wines should normally be served between 6-8°C (43-46°F) whereas Vintage Champagne should be served at temperatures between 8-10°C (46-50°F).