Question: Can pairing wine with food make the wine taste better?
Answer: Yes! Proper food pairing can turn a so-so wine into one that's a pleasure to drink, and can make a good wine taste absolutely amazing.
The secret lies in the basic elements of taste in both the food and the wine.
In their simplest form, the elements of taste in food can be broken down into their fat, acid, sugar and salt components. For wine, the basics include fruit, acid, alcohol, sugar and tannins.
Using that as a starting point, pairing wine with food is often a process of determining if you want the two to complement each other or to contrast with one another.
For example, a wine that's high in acid, such as sangiovese, can often provide a nice complement to a tomato-based sauce and pasta dish, which is also high in acid. Here, the wine helps soften the astringency of the food, and vice versa. The wine also can provide the food with complementary flavors, such as cherry tomato or perhaps with a bit of herbaceousness.
The other pairing option is to contrast the food and wine elements of taste. For instance, try a potentially sweeter wine, such as a riesling, with spicy Asian foods; or serve a wine that's high in acidity, such as sauvignon blanc, with creamy, fatty cheeses.
You'll find this contrasting technique allows you to fully experience the flavors of both the food and the wine without one overwhelming the other. That should always be your ultimate goal.
Last month I moderated a wine dinner at North Bellingham Golf Course's Nine Restaurant, where the wines were tasted in advance to determine the best foods to serve with them.
A Mount Baker Vineyards 2012 Siegerrebe (about $15) worked beautifully during the appetizer course that included curried Dungeness crab and pulled pork on endive with spiced pear and mango chutney. The food was complemented by the fragrant white wine's spicy, floral quality that seamlessly followed through to the palate. The wine also carried a nice contrasting touch of residual sugar.
A Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Co. 2011 Kolk Rosé (about $12) was served with a roasted cauliflower with aged white cheddar and cream soup. The wine's strawberry and rhubarb flavors were accentuated by a big, crisp acid content that easily cut through the creaminess of the soup and provided a perfect food/wine contrast.
On Jan. 25 I will moderate another five-course dinner at Nine Restaurant featuring wines from Walla Walla's Forgeron Cellars including the 2012 Ambiance, 2011 Zinfandel and 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon, to name a few. Advance reservations are required and can be made by calling 360-398-8300, ext 2.
Dan Radil is a wine enthusiast who lives in Bellingham. Reach him at danthewineguy.com.