An international wine education program called WSET (Wine and Spirits Educational Trust), based in London, is one of the most respected programs of its kind in at least the Western World.
Those who successfully complete the program of a series of four education levels, likely nearly a lifetime of research, tasting and travel, along with many thousands of dollars, join just a tiny cadre of world wine experts that are able to identify varietals, year of harvest, country of origin, specific producer and perhaps even the vineyard in which the grapes were grown.
However, Level One is fairly approachable, even for those who are only beginning their journey of wine appreciation. Element 3 of this first program is an introduction to food and wine pairing. There is a lot of interesting information, some of which is shared below.
When food and wine are enjoyed together, the food is more much impactful on the wine than the wine on the food. In other words: a great wine cannot make lousy food taste better, but great food can make an average wine become a lot more appealing. And sometimes when certain combinations are served, neither the food nor the wine benefit from the pairings.
So here are some things to consider:
• Sweetness in food increases the perception of bitterness, acidity and the heat effect of high alcohol. It also decreases the sense of body, sweetness and fruitiness in a wine. Hence, a piece of cake would make an off-dry Riesling taste more bitter and quite unpleasant.
• Acidity in food increases the perception of body, sweetness and fruitiness and decreases the perception of acidity in the wine. So, if a food is quite high in acid, it can make a high-acid wine taste fruitier and softer. Think Cabernets with a red pasta lasagna.
• Salty foods make a wine appear to have more body. It also decreases the perception of acidity and bitterness. Thus, generally speaking, salty foods complement most wines (the exception being those very low acid varieties which might taste a bit “flabby”).
• Bitterness in food increases bitterness in wine. Thus asparagus and Brussels sprouts are seldom served with ANY wine.
Beyond the basics of sweet, acid, salt and bitter, the element of “heat” in foods from something like green chilies will have a tremendous impact on wines served. The perception of chili’s heat varies in each person. Some people are more sensitive than others.
Additionally, individuals vary greatly when they describe the level of pleasant or unpleasant sensations from heat. Chili heat increases the perception of bitterness, acidity and alcohol, and increases the sense of richness, sweetness and fruitiness. Thus with Thai food, even a low alcohol, quite sweet Riesling can work well for those who typically only drink “dry.”
Finally, there is the rather illusive and difficult to describe element of “umami” in foods. Umami is a savory taste with is often present with other tastes including saltiness.
The example WSET uses is the difference between a fresh mushroom (no umami) and one that has been cooked. Foods with high umami are things like cured meats, smoked seafood and hard cheeses. Generally umami increases the perception of acidity and bitterness and decreases fruitiness and sweetness.
As an experiment, collect a bunch of typically “wine friendly” foods, like tart Granny Smith and sweet McIntosh apples, apricots and smoked nuts, hard cheeses and soft cheeses. Add some pepper jelly to the corner of a plate.
Be sure to have some pitchers of water and crusty bread available. Bring out a bottle of sweet Riesling, dry Cabernet and perhaps some high acid Greüner. Provide some note paper and begin tasting the food and wine in varying combinations and see some dramatic changes in how the wines react to the tasters’ palates.
Source: Star Beacon