Wine as a subject is often intimidating to begin with and then when it comes to wine and food, people coil up even more. Chai and Pakodas, Coffee and a slice of cake, beer and burger etc are popular combinations; they are essentially pairings of food and beverage. It is just that you are happy to experiment with combining these with anything as they are accessible and wine still seems elusive. Well frankly you should go ahead and try different food and wines, make your own conclusions and that is the best way to do it. But if you still need a primer to get you going with wine and food, below are some principles which are a little scientific and but based more on observations over years. A rule laid once upon a time said “Whites with white and reds with red”, referring to colour of the wines and that of the meat. With newer observations, this stands a bit diluted as people have started to enjoy red with white and vice versa.
Spicy: Well this is a burning topic with us Indians as our cuisine uses a lot of spices apart from Chillis and what wine to pair with it is a question that almost always comes up!! With spicy food; one’s palate flares up and it needs to be refreshed. One can refresh it with a sweet smelling wine or a wine which has slight sweetness (off dry style). In whites Rieslings, Gewurztraminer both in off dry styles are a good bet apart from the fruity and juicy new world Sauvignon Blancs and Chenin Blancs including Indian are a worthwhile bet. In reds fruit forward styles and riper styles of wine are my choice and depending on the kind of meat, one can choose from a refreshing Pinot Noir to a luscious Indian Shiraz.
Salty: Apples taste good by itself but a little sprinkle of salt just accentuates the taste, actually the acidity in apples and salt go well. On similar lines, anything salty has to be paired with wines with high acidity. For E.g.: Salted Cashews with Chablis from France. Also salt in the food make the wine less bitter, bitterness here attributes to tannins thus paving a way for heavier tannic reds like Cabernet sauvignon, Shiraz, Zinfandel, Mable etc. Similar to apple and salt, many of us would have tried watermelon and salt, this is the contrast of sweet and salt which goes well, making salty cheese and sweet late harvest Chining Blanc a great combination The same wine can work brilliantly as a drizzle on your feta canapés.
Fat: Fatty food coats your palate and a wine low in acidity just glides over that layer of fat leaving one with no memory of the wine. Fatty foods call for wines high in acidity and these wines act as palate cleansers giving one the taste of the wine and prepare the palate for the next morsel. So I will pair my Onion kachori with an Indian Sauvignon Blanc, a Mushroom vol-au-vent with Italian Pinot Grigio etc etc.
Proteins: Proteins, we speak of meats and in case of vegetarians, rennet free hard cheeses. Tannic red wines are an apt pairing as the tannins devote all their might to soften the proteins thus making both the food and the wine softer. Cabernet Sauvignons, Shiraz, Malbec, Tempranillo, Monastrell etc are some of the big reds.
Sweet: The sweetness in the wine has to match the sweetness of the dish thus Gulab Jamun can be a difficult proposition to match with. Also one can go in for a contrast by pairing it with a crisp sparkling matching the flavour profile. For e.g.: Fruits in custard can be a match with fruity and dry Prosecco; an Italian sparkling wine.
Ok so these are some of the pairing guidelines. So what about a dish which is salty, fatty, and spicy and proteinaceous, say an Indian curry? I will pair it with a fruity, medium/full bodied wine with refreshing acidity. An Indian Merlot, Shiraz or a new world Pinot noir aged for a few years suit the bill perfectly. Nonetheless these guidelines as I said are for starters, post which you have to keep experiencing and finding your own pairings. And yes, do not forget to ping me for all the interesting pairings you come up with!!