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Pairing food and wine? Relax
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Sunday, April 22, 2012    |    By: Holly Leber (Contact)
  • photo
    A glass of red and white wine from St. John's restaurant in downtown Chattanooga.
    Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

Rules, it has been said, are made to be broken, and that is certainly true when it comes to pairing food and wine.

"People think pairing wine and food is science," said Josh Carter, manager at St. John's Restaurant on Market Street. "Have fun. The more pressure you take off yourself and just focus on food and wine and company, the better [the experience] is going to be overall. If you stress out about the pairing, you take all the fun out of it."

Much of wine pairing, said Michael Vasta, operations manager at the Bluff View Art District, is based on an individual's preference.

There are a number of approaches to pairing wine with food. Sometimes, said Carter, the wine is the star of the meal, and other times it is there to simply complement the dishes.

"The rules are pretty simple," he said. "They're not as simple as white with white and red with red, but there's some value to that."

Carter said he looks for wine with high acidity and low oak to pair with food.

"Those are the most flexible style of wines that you pair almost anything with," he said.

Acidity is a key factor in wine pairing, Vasta said.

"When you're talking about an acidic sauce (like a tomato sauce), you want to pair it with an acidic wine.

Food, and therefore wine, is often affected by season. In the summer, for example, Carter favors bright, citrusy Sauvignon Blancs.

"It seems to go with fresh produce, tomatoes and high-acid foods," he said.

The similarly bright Chenin Blanc, he said, is also a strong wine. "It lends itself to changing the dynamics of a dish."

Italian wines, said Vasta, "have some of the most marked acidity."

Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs are among the most versatile of wine choices, Carter said.

"Pinot Noir is a really easy red. It pairs with a vast majority of foods because of the high acid."

One reason white wines are often paired with fish, Vasta said, is because fish is often served with a squeeze of lemon, and an acidic, bright wine reflects the brightness of the citrus.

"When pairing any dish with wine," he said, "you want to look not only at the color of the protein, you want to look at the sauce."

Lighter sauces or cream-based sauces tend to pair better with whites. A round Chardonnay, for example, would pair well with a cream sauce, Vasta said.

Another concern is the tannins in wine.

Tannin, that mouth-puckering substance often found in red wines, can be limiting when attempting to pair wine with food. Cabernets are an example of wines that can be quite tannic. Tannic wines are best paired with higher-fat proteins that have been grilled or smoked.