As we prepare for our Black Grapes walk-around wine tasting, we’ve thought deeply about what food we’ll have on-site, given the wines and many of our possible food partners. Some of our event-goers will be surprised to see what we have in store for food, but there is a method to our madness.
There are traditional views on food and wine pairing that would have you thinking that Cabernet Sauvignon is the only thing you can pair with a steak, that oaked Chardonnay is your go-to pairing for lobster, and let us not forget my greatest pet-peeve, off-dry Riesling and anything with spice make everything nice. I would urge you to forget that noise when embarking on an explorative wine and food tasting.
So, what would a company like the Spice Food & Wine Group serve at a walk-around wine tasting like Black Grapes? Let me give you a hint, it will not be an evening solely serving off-dry Riesling! Bring your open minds.
Below are three simple points to remember when embarking on any food and wine pairing event that will set you up for a better experience and vinous success.
The 3 things to remember with food and wine exploration
Be mindful of the 5 taste elements.
There are basic flavours that the human palate can decipher, and they are salt, sweet, sour, bitter, and umami. (There is some discussion now about adding ‘fat’ as another.) There is a possibility of these flavours being in all cuisines, which makes it a primary platform to build on when pairing food and wine.
I often use these flavour compounds when trying to find same-sameness, or more professionally put, congruent pairings.
Breaking the pairing method down to flavour compounds makes it easy to see why I take a Chianti Classico with its mushroom, tomato, and other savoury base and pair it with a Thai dish that plays heavily with fish sauce. Something many would not do considering traditional pairing suggests that wines with notable residual sugars are the only options you have for Thai food. Further, working with the same notion and using the five taste elements would guide me to pair bitter karela with a high-acid Carricante from Sicily to build a complementary pairing.
As you can see, we’ve used the five flavours to guide our wine selections in both cases above. When doing pairings this way, you often will stumble across a winning match that the conventional texts would lead you to believe would never work.
Breakdown the dominant flavours
Regardless of the cuisine, the rule of deciphering the dominant flavour in a dish is a must.
Many take the protein makeup as their guide, which is flawed. For example, having red meat? Many would say you must have a tannic red wine, that Cabernet Sauvignon we mentioned above. But what happens if it is a sirloin marinated in chimichurri for 48 hours and then grilled? This is a true story and how a steak was recently served to me at a Canadian grill restaurant. Further, what happens if it is a peppered steak? That Cabernet Sauvignon may not work. You will likely want a lighter red wine with a red berry dominant profile.
In my real-world example, I paired that chimichurri steak with a glass of Dolcetto. My point here is that you will miss the mark if making assumptions about wine pairings, given the protein in the dish. The dominant flavour always wins.
Never say never!
I have come to gather an extensive library on flavours and ideal pairings for different food profiles and not because of my wine education but because of my trial and error. No food or wine profile is off limits.
I have found some unicorns in the room simply by trying things older text would say were terrible choices. I was determined to experience what made a pairing a bad choice. In several cases, I learned that what older texts claimed were bad pairings were, in truth, great!
A deeper investigation made it clear that many who had written those texts did not have a depth of knowledge of cuisines outside of the Euro-centric, hence their limited apply to it when it came to wine pairing.
Today, we are building our own narratives around food and wine pairing and genuinely making this fermented libation a personal item. All the more reason why trying it all for yourself is a must. Never say never!
Wine tasting has got to be an open-minded activity. This is where new experiences are gained. The blueprint is to remember the basics, like the five taste elements, be mindful of dominant flavours, and never say never.
Going into a tasting with the 3 things to remember with food and wine exploration will make your tasting experience a pleasurable and unforgettable one!