Below lists 6 Easy Steps to Become a Wine Pairing Guru.
If you would like to become a wine pairing guru faster, check back here for updates on the course release (Spring 2021). Or join our community and subscribe to our newsletter for discounts on upcoming courses, free wine cheat sheets and wine and food pairing exercises you can do at home.
Wine and Food Pairing Rule:
If you don't like the wine, you won't like the pairing
‘If you don’t like the wine, you won’t like the pairing’ likely seems intuitive for most readers. But this is not commonly taught in the sommelier schools.
Unfortunately, this leads many wine professionals to conclude that the guests they are serving are wrong.
Yet on the flip side of the coin, just because you love a wine, does not mean you will like it with the food. It is the usually the wine that changes in a wine and food pairing, not the food.
So, with all of the complex relationships between wine, food and the people who consume them, what can one do?
Follow these 6 Easy Steps to Become a Wine Pairing Guru below.
6 Easy Steps to Become a Wine Pairing Guru
#1 Identify the most important or strongest food element(s) of the dish. (If you are starting with the wine and want to build a meal around it, start with #2)
The most important element of the dish, could be the protein: fish, chicken, or beef. However, it is often the sauce that is more important than the protein especially if you are dealing with fish, chicken or pork. Because the sauce is often the stronger element than the protein.
We wrote a post about pairing wine with sushi which will be published soon. In it, we chose the soy sauce to pair with the wine regardless of what type of roll you eat. That’s because the soy sauce is the strongest element.
In another example, grilled chicken with chimichurri (sauce made with pureed lemon juice, fresh parsley, cilantro and garlic) will work well with a lighter wine than grilled chicken with a creamy beurre blanc. The beurre blanc will need a heavier wine so it doesn’t get lost in the sauce.
How the food is cooked will also make a difference. Battered and deep fried chicken will need a heavier wine than a grilled chicken.
So decide what the most important and/ or strongest flavours are in the dish.
#2 Learn to understand wine structure.
Wine structure is the first thing wine students learn when taking wine notes. The way that we teach wine structure in wine schools is quite sophisticated. But here is a simplified set of questions you should ask yourself when you taste wine.
Ask yourself these questions to assess the wine's structure:
- Does the wine seem dry, off-dry (slightly sweet), or sweet?
- How much does my mouth water after tasting the wine?
- How heavy does the wine feel in my mouth?
- How hot does the wine feel after swallowing it?
- How bitter does the wine taste?
How textbooks address the above in a wine school goes more like this…
Simplified wine structural elements according to wine schools and their textbooks:
- the sweetness level of the wine; is it dry, off-dry, or sweet
- the level of acidity (low, medium or high)
- the body (light, medium or full)
- the level of alcohol: low (8-11.5% abv), medium (12-13.5% abv) or high (14% and above)
- the level of tannin (low, medium or high)
Why do we assess wine structure?
As stated above, wine and food pairing is very complicated. Firstly, the structural elements of wine are affected by its other structural elements. Secondly, each component in the dish will also have an effect on the wine’s structure. Translation: ‘it is the the wine that changes in a pairing and may taste better with the food or may taste horrible’. The food is rarely affected by the wine.
Experienced sommeliers are able to make very quick assessments in their head about a wine’s structure, then guage how food elements of a dish will change it. The best of them are further able to factor in the individual taste preferences of the diner to create an amazing experience for their guests.
Understanding wine structure and memorizing the wine structure of the gazillion wines available takes a lifetime. (and Gazillion is an actual word, I encourage you to look up its etymology!)
But look at it this way, you don’t need to memorize them all, only somms need to do that. You only need to memorize the structure of the wines you like, so you can predict how they will go with food.
#3 So, go ahead and taste the wine on its own first. Make notes.
Remember, its the wine that (usually) changes in a wine and food pairing.
So it only makes sense to write down your thoughts about the wine on its own first. Here is where you can do a quick structural assessment based on questions above.
Or, even just ask yourself the most basic questions…do you like the wine? What do you like about the wine? What don’t you like about it?
#4 Sample components of the dish with the wine individually, then...Write down your results!
Have a bite of that chicken without any sauce, then sip the wine. Write down your thoughts. Ask yourself the same questions in #2. Does the food make the wine taste less bitter? Does the wine taste less tart (makes your mouth water less)? Does the food make the wine taste better or worse? In what way?
Then have a bite of chicken and cover it in the sauce. Go over the same questions. How has the wine changed?
Write it down.
#5 Keep your reactions to your wine and food pairing combinations in a binder or in an app like google keep.
Wine apps such as ‘Wine Notes‘ for Android or other apps like Vivino, Delectable and Cellar Tracker are designed to help you keep track of wines, you could amend them to add a food pairing with the wines. However, you will only be able to search for your pairings by the wines only, not by the food.
‘Google Keep‘ in gmail has an amazing search capability where you can easily find your matches by searching for the wine or the food. It’s a simple application to learn. In fact, this is my prefered way to write notes as it allows your free hand style to grow.
Whatever the system, keep your reactions to different wine and food combinations in one place. A clear picture will soon form of the combinations that work for you and why they work. Then, you will begin to predict how certain wines will react to foods to make your wine purchases easier.