Selecting a bottle of wine to decompress from a hard day’s work is a luxury we all enjoy. On hot summer days, most reach for a refreshing bottle of white. But what happens when you are in the mood for something red? Or when you want to drink your wine with a meal?
The goal when pairing food and wine is to complement or enhance the wine as well as the food. What you don’t want to happen is have the wine make the food worse or have the food throw off the flavor in the wine you painstakingly chose.
Accomplishing the assembly for the perfect pairing can be a true art form. It is also something that anyone can do with the right set of tools. The key is learning the fundamental characteristics of wine, listening to the flavors you are experiencing, and adjusting with a bit of trial and error.
There are many ways to pair food and wine. Here are our suggestions on how to get started, as well as links to recipes and food pairings!
The Five Fundamental Characteristics of Wine
Acid is the element that helps you pre-digest your meal. When drinking the wine by itself, does it make you salivate? The waterier your mouth gets after you swallow, the higher the acid in the wine. If you pair an acidic wine with something that is creamy—this can be a creamy sauce or just a creamy texture—your tastebuds will sing for joy! However, if you have your heart set on food that is lighter in nature, consider switching up your wine for something with a less acidic profile. For example, a Marsanne with halibut instead of Sauvignon Blanc.
The body of the wine is significant. You can use it as an indicator of how heavy the meal should be. If you have a light-bodied wine, meaning the weight of the wine sits light in your mouth—like skim milk vs. whipping cream—it would be considered a lighter-bodied wine. These do not pair well with a heavy meal, like a rich, fatty roast. The meal would cast a shadow over the wine and make it hard to differentiate the varying flavors in the glass. Which is why you bought that special bottle in the first place, isn’t it? The goal should be to match the intensity of the wine with the intensity of the meal.
How else can you tell if your wine is lighter-bodied? Many wines aged in stainless steel—unoaked—tend to be lighter-bodied.
Tannin is the element of dryness. It is naturally derived from the skin and the seeds of the grapes, as well as the oak developed in the barrel. Tannins are a great indicator of what food to pair with your wine. The dryness in the wine is soothed by our favorite fatty foods. This includes fatty meats or even creamy sauces. Do you see any overlap here with another characteristic we already discussed? Hint, hint: it’s acid! Pairing more tannic wines with fattier foods will make the wine taste smoother and cut the richness of the fatty meal to bring a beautiful balance to your mouth. Like a match made in heaven.
If you are looking for a starting place, Paloma wines—both the Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot—tend to have softer tannins in comparison to other Napa Cabs and Merlots. We categorize them as light to medium tannins. This is an intentional trait. We make our wine with a softer, more elegant touch to it because we believe that wine should be enjoyed with and without food. The more tannic the wine, generally, the more you are going to want something to help cut those tannins. They take over your mouth and, for many, take away from the enjoyment of the wine.
The aromatic component in wine drinking is important to consider. This is the age-old adage: what grows together goes together. If you smell the wine and smell the food you are preparing and they do not smell good together, chances are they will not taste good together. For example, let’s assume you are making pork pesto with roasted potatoes and French herbs, such as lavender, thyme, and rosemary. When you smell a light Italian red wine like Nebbiolo, which has notes of rose, leather, and anise, those aromatics are busy and the flavors will most likely clash. In contrast, the aromatics of a rack of lamb with a plum reduction paired with a mountain Merlot, such as Paloma, which typically smells of floral, ripe fruit, and spicy plum, will complement each other. Remember, what grows together goes together. And yes, lambs climbing mountains count.
Lastly, alcohol level is an element that should not be overlooked. A higher level of alcohol can overwhelm the wrong meal. Alcohol, like body, needs something a bit stronger to stand up to. Steer clear of light meals with high-alcohol wines. The wine will drastically outshine the food on the table and those beautiful fresh ingredients you slaved over will get lost. The meal will begin to taste solely like the wine you are drinking.
When you get the pairing just right
If it isn’t clear by now, the key to food and wine pairings is balance. Pairings can comfort and inspire the soul when it is just right! The fun part is the discovery of what works and what does not. Pairing Jambalaya and a semi-sweet Riesling can be a transcendent process of fireworks on the palate; Chardonnay and macaroni and cheese with a breadcrumb topping can be as warming as chicken noodle soup for the soul; and Merlot and pork sliders are perfect for an enlivened team brainstorm and BBQ.
We can all get intimidated by the idea of pairing food and wine. Often, we’re just scared of getting it wrong. But the truth is, that’s half the fun! Understanding food and wine pairings is accomplished, like anything, through the practice of trial and error. Don’t be afraid to learn (and fail) with others. Keep it fun and unpretentious by embracing the busts and celebrating the sublime successes. There will be plenty of both!
Looking for some recipes to try with your next bottle of Paloma?
Over the years, we have had our wines paired with some fantastic meals. Many of those chefs have shared their creations with us, so we want to start sharing them with you. You can find all of the recipes on our website under MORE -> OUR RECIPES. We will continue to add new recipes regularly, so keep checking in for new food pairings!
Here are some great examples to get you started!
Duck Breast with Medjool Dates & Caramelized Ginger Reduction: Originally paired with the 2001 Merlot by Chef Terry Foshee at Geroge’s At The Cove, we have paired this dish with the 2019 Merlot that is reminiscent of the infamous ’01.
Sheldon’s Heirloom Tomato Salad with Buratta Cheese: This house favorite has had many variations, but they all include a heavy helping of fresh Buratta. Pair this with the elegant, single varietal 2014 Merlot; the only vintage of its kind.
Beef Shortribs with Chocolate Gastrique: Coming into the fall season and cooler weather, this splendid comfort food dish will soothe your soul on a cold evening. Paired with the 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon to warm the taste buds.