Food and wine matching is a bit of a dark art. It relies in part on science and experimentation, but perhaps more than this there is the emotional, subjective element. Taste in food and wine is quite personal, and it is deeply satisfying when the occasion, the food and the wine all seem to work together. But it is really hard to make concrete rules that ensure the replication of this perfect combination.
We at the Perfect Cellar believe that wine really shows its best when it is paired with great food and a great occasion. Our list is packed full of authentic wines that are great dining companions, so in a series of blog posts we’re going to try to give a little guidance on food and wine matching. What we are looking for is synergy: the moments when both bring out the best in each other and the whole is more than the sum of the parts.
We’re going to start with red meats. They are probably the easiest dishes to get it right with food and wine pairing: a good steak and a bottle of red wine just belong together, and it’s actually quite hard to go wrong.
What are the different elements in a red wine that make it work with food? First, there’s the colour. This may sound silly, but we shouldn’t discount it. People taste with their eyes. A deep red/black coloured red wine works so well visually with red meat that we are almost half way there in getting the match right. Wine and food matching is in large part psychological.
Then there’s the acidity. Acid is an important component of red wine, and it helps cut through rich fatty flavours. Acidity helps form the structure of a wine, alongside what we call tannins. These are the elements in a red wine that make it taste grippy or astringent. Alone they are unpleasant and mouth-drying, but in balance, together with sweet fruity flavours, they provide balance. The structure or mouthfeel of a wine helps make meat seem more digestible and helps bring out its texture. But it’s best to avoid overly tannic red wines with fatty meats.
Some specifics. For a rare steak or rare roast beef, it’s time to bring out young, powerful tannic red wines, such as a young Bordeaux.
For a boeuf bourgignon or a similar stew, wines with lighter tannins work best, so a Pinot Noir or red Burgundy would be a good choice, or a mature red wine where the tannins are much less apparent, such as an older Rioja.
For game, we would opt for a Rhône red such as a Chateauneuf du Pape, or a Pinot Noir/red Burgundy.
Lamb is quite a fatty meat with distinctive flavour. So a warm, spicy red with lots of personality and medium tannins would work best. Acid would help here.
This is just a starter. In general, though, it’s hard to go too far wrong matching red wines and red meats.