Wine can be tasted alone or in comparison with other kinds of wine, but its most noble role is to liven up a meal with friends, where it can bring about the essential spirit of conviviality to cope with our 21st-century stressful life. Wine can sublime a dinner, convey emotions, bring back some memories and liven up an exchange of views.
A meal without wine is like life without love.
So, one fundamental question arises: how can the various food and wines best be paired?
We all know that, more than in other fields, talking about wine calls for the necessity of a fictitious language, full of comparisons. The reason for this is that specific terms about taste are not enough to describe the wide range of individual sensations, and also because everyone nourishes its own taste arranging its impressions in terms of palate reactions, memory, knowledge and circumstances.
Therefore, it is necessary to be very modest when talking about matching “food and wine”.
Let’s try to explain some fundamental rules, without claiming to impose none.
In a meal, wine can play two different roles: it can either help continue and therefore enhance the flavours and features of a dish (a full-bodied wine with a rich dish; Amarone with a chocolate dessert), or provide an element of contrast to the dish, bringing about new, sometimes daring notes (a fortified wine paired with some cheese with herbs; a dry white wine, slightly sour, with a voluptuous dessert).
There are also some “bans”. So, to be sure, drink water with asparagus, artichokes and dishes seasoned with vinegar, in that some ingredients are not compatible with the features of wine, be it red or white, dry or fortified, sparkling or still.
It is wise to pair regional wines with the same regional cuisine. In general, throughout the centuries, history and culture have shaped natural alliances where, in turn, food and wine add “the extra touch” to the tasting impressions. A Chianti classico will be the perfect pairing wine for a traditional dish such as “pasta and fagioli”, as much as risotto alla Milanese will be very delighted to share its flavours with a good Barbera. Finally, it is essential not to forget that everyone has his own taste, so someone’s taste could be the opposite of somebody else’s. For instance, Asian people, who are used to drink tea, easily accept wines with a high level of tannins, while American people, who have been used to sweet drink since when they were children, prefer supple and smooth wines, slightly sweet, and with a high level of alcohol.
Furthermore, we often apply this rule, which perfectly livens up the dinner: plan to serve two or three wines for each course, and serve them at the same time. You will ask your guests to first taste the wines alone and pay attention to the impressions they feel. Then, they will drink them along with food to check whether their impressions are confirmed or if their hierarchies have been modified. It is fascinating. The nicest example about this is the one of Rieslings, which have different levels of residual sugars (between 5g and 50g). Certainly, when tasted alone, wines with the highest level of residual sugars will be privileged, though the driest wines will most probably overcome when paired with food.
Philippe Bourguignon, professional sommelier and current director of Laurent restaurant in Paris, is the author of a fundamental piece of work on this topic: “The perfect match”.
Bourguignon insists on the difficulty to find, in restaurants, the ideal, consensual wine, which could be welcome to the taste of all customers, who often choose a different dish. In this case, a certain consent is compulsory, whereas at home it is easier to adapt your recipes to the wine you chose to drink.
Nothing is easy.
And circumstances often play the major role. A dinner among skiers coming back home from a day on the ski run will be very different from a dinner conceived for the visit of your uncle senator or archbishop! Finally, never forget that behind every bottle there is a wine maker, 365 days of work, hesitation, disappointment, joy and success. Never forget the man behind the wine!
As Philippe Bourguignon rightly wrote:
“Richness is not hidden in a wine cellar, but it is to be found in the wines you tasted”.
Being modest and understanding the others’ taste, the wine with the highest consent will always be the one whose bottle will be empty at the end of the meal.
In conclusion, quoting again my maître Philippe Bourguignon:
“The best match will always depend on ambiance, people, humour and place. A wrong pairing, shared in a debate, is much more worthy than a disdained and insensible match. Wine is firstly expression of sharing, which evokes a great symbolic force in our civilisation.”