First Principle: WINE IS A FOOD
All food and wine matching is more easily understood when the taste components of wines are thought of in the same way as ingredients in a dish.Just like good cooking involves a balancing of ingredients and technique, good wine/food matching involves focusing on how specific components in wines interact and achieve a sense of balance and harmony with specific components in dishes. In this sense, matching the components in wine and food is no different than putting together ingredients when you cook.
Second Principle: THE FIVE BASIC TASTE SENSATIONS
That is to say, what your taste buds perceive, whether you are tasting wine or food:
Sweetness – Related to amount of residual sugar in both foods and wines.
Sour/tartness – Degree of acidity in both foods and wines (more so in whites than in reds).
Saltiness – Not a significant component in wine, but important in how a wine relates to it in foods.
Bitterness – Tasted in many foods, and in the tannin content of red wines (to a lesser degree in whites).
Umami – The flattering, amino acid related sense of “deliciousness” found in many foods, and to a limited extent in wines. (See Deconstructing Umami)
Third Principle: KEY TACTILE SENSATIONS
Like the hot/cold of chocolate syrup and ice cream, these are some key factors in many food/wine matches:
Density, body or weight – The sense of light vs. heavy contributed by proteins, fats and/or carbs in foods, and primarily related to degree of alcohol content in wines (bolstered by tannin in reds)
Soft/crisp textures – Tactile contrasts in foods; and in wines, smooth or easy vs. hard, sharp or angular.
Spicy/hot – Feel of heat when chiles, peppers or horseradishes are used in foods; not felt as a tactile sensation in wines, but suggested in aromas and flavors (“spice” notes).
Fourth Principle: FLAVOR IS AROMA RELATED
Without the sense of smell, neither foods nor wines have “flavor,” be it the apple-like aroma of a Chardonnay or an actual apple, or the sweet, spiced berry qualities of a Pinot Noir or Zinfandel. Matching wine and food is a matter combining the flavors you smell as it is balancing taste and tactile sensations.
Fifth Principle: THE TWO WAYS WINES AND FOODS ARE SUCCESSFULLY MATCHED
Two gastronomic pioneers of the 1980s, David Rosengarten and Joshua Wesson, deserve full credit for first formulating these two self-evident concepts for food and wine:
Similarities – When there are similar taste sensations in both a dish and a wine (example: the buttery sauce in a fish dish enhanced by the creamy or buttery texture of an oak barrel fermented white wine).
Contrasts – When sensations in a wine contrast with sensations in a dish to positive effect (example: the sweetness of a white wine balancing the saltiness of a dish like ham or cured sausage, and vice-versa).
Sixth Principle: BALANCED FOODS AND BALANCED WINES MAKE THE BEST MATCHES
No matter what your personal taste, invariably you discover this natural phenomenon: that the easiest foods and wines to match are those with their own intrinsic sense of harmony. Balanced wines are always best with balanced dishes, and vice-versa.