Food and Wine Pairing

An Introduction to Food and Wine Pairing

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Created by Dr. Jessica Street

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Learning Objectives

This interactive tutorial is intended for individuals who want to overcome the intimidation factor associated with selecting a wine from an endless wine list in a fine restaurant. It will also aid those persons to choose a wine that compliments versus overpowers their food selections. Learners completing this tutorial will be able to:

You may proceed through this tutorial in a linear fashion, or go directly to the section you are most interested in by clicking on the appropriate page number at the top of the screen (section names are revealed by pointing to a given page without clicking). Refer to page 2, Help, for important information to navigate through and successfully complete the tutorial.

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The Wine Making Process

People have been drinking wine for more than 5,000 years. This $26 billion a year industry in the United States is much more than just a flavorful beverage that compliments dinner; that is, wine also has proven health benefits. Red wine is rich in flavonoids and it may protect your heart by reducing LDL (bad) cholesterol, increasing HDL (good cholesterol), and reducing blood clotting. Additionally, white wine can help to improve lung function.

Wine production is an annual event that spans the globe, resulting in numerous varieties to choose from. Regardless of location (e.g., France, Italy, United States), the wine making process remains the same. Details are provided below.


Step 1: CRUSHER - Grapes are conveyed to a de-stemmer/crusher where grape leaves and stems are removed, and grapes are crushed.

Step 2: FERMENTATION - Most red grapes go to the fermenter for primary fermentation while most white grapes are pressed prior to fermentation. Yeast is added to start the fermentation.

Step 3: PRESS - After fermentation, red wines go to press to separate the wine from the grape skins.

Step 4: TANK - Most wines are settled in large stainless steel or upright oak tanks.

Step 5: BARREL - After settling, red wines and fuller-bodied white wines are put into small oak barrels for barrel aging.

Step 6: FILTER - After barrel aging and prior to bottling, some wines are filtered to help stabilize and clarify them.

Step 7: BOTTLE - Finished wines are bottled.

Step 8: AGING - (OPTIONAL) Wines may be aged further in a bottle.


Self-Check: Wine Making Process

Complete the activity below to test your knowledge of the wine-making process (you will need to scroll down to see the entire activity). Refer to Page 4, The Wine Making Process, if you need assistance. Good luck!


How to Taste Wine

Perhaps you've seen people go through the ritual of swirling, sniffing, and swishing wines around in their mouths when tasting wine. This is because wine tasting involves more than just our taste buds; that is, wine tasting is a sensory evaluation of wines. More specifically, proper wine tasting involves three phases: (1) appearance, (2) aroma, and (3) taste.

Phase 1: Appearance

wineAppearance.jpg The process of tasting wine begins by assessing its visual appearance; more specifically, its clarity and color. Accordingly, you'll need to pour wine (no more than 1/3 of a glass) into a clear wine glass and hold it by its stem in front of a white background (e.g., tablecloth or napkin). This may feel awkward, but it prevents the heat of your hands from altering the temperature of the wine and your fingerprints from changing the wine's appearance. Wine should appear clear and brilliant versus cloudy and dull. Slightly tipping the glass may give you a better view.redWineColors.jpgwhiteWineColors.jpg

The color of wine varies greatly depending on its maturity, and more color usually indicates more flavor and age. Whereas time improves many red wines, it ruins most white wines. Colors of white wines range from green to yellow to brown. Red wines begin purplish in color, become lighter, and then change to a brown color as they mature.

Swirling is the final step in assessing the wine's appearance. This process allows you to visually observe the body of the wine and releases the wine's bouquet (phase 2). After you have swirled the wine, notice the legs (also known as tears) that form on the inside of the glass and stream down. 'Good legs' (a high number) may indicate a thicker body and a higher alcohol content and/or sweetness level.

Phase 2: Aroma

wineSmell.jpg Once you have successfully swirled the wine, place your nose into the glass and inhale deeply to draw its bouquet deep into the nose. The smell of the wine is extremely important to its overall taste. This is because your taste buds can only detect four distinct tastes (sweet, salty, sour, and bitter), whereas the nose can detect thousands of aromas that give us a vast number of flavors. Think about the scents you are inhaling and try to identify them. What do they remind you of? It is likely that you will smell different scents than others around you. Perhaps you will not be able to distinguish various scents initially, but rest assured that scents will become more identifable with time and practice.

Phase 3: Taste

wineTaste.jpg Now that you have examined the wine using your eyes and nose, you are ready to taste the wine with your mouth. Take a decent sized sip of the wine and swish it around in your mouth for 15-30 seconds before swallowing. Notice the initial taste of the wine as you take it in. Think about the wine's body. Also notice the taste characteristics of the wine as you swish it around in your mouth, keeping in mind the four basic components of wine: (1) acidity, (2) alcohol, (3) sweetness, and (4) tannin. Swallow the wine and notice its aftertaste. When the aftertaste is gone, reflect and articulate your impressions of the wine.

Self-Check: How to Taste Wine

Complete the four questions below to test your knowledge of the wine tasting process (you will need to scroll down to see and complete all four questions). Refer to Page 6, How to Taste Wine, if you need assistance. Good luck!

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A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White...What's the Difference?

As you've already learned, wine is made from grapes and generally speaking, grapes can be separated into two categories: (1) white grapes, and (2) black grapes. White grapes are never actually white; that is, they are actually lighter-skinned grapes (green, yellow-green, gold, or light-orange in color). Similarly, black grapes are never actually black; rather they are grapes with a red or blue tint, and range from light ruby to deep indigo. White wines are almost always made from white grapes, but can be made from black grapes because the juice of both grape types is clear. Red wines are always made from black grapes, and additional pressing of the black grapes during the wine making process produces the red wine color (by releasing tannins).

Oh, if only the choice of wine was as simple as deciding between red and white. In actuality, there are several varieties of both 'reds' and 'whites' to choose from. Types of reds include merlot, cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chianti, and zinfandel. Whites include pinot grigio, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, and gewürztraminer. Given the number of options, you may be wondering what makes one red wine different from the next (and one white wine different from the next). You may also be curious as to the proper pronunciations of these wines. Accordingly, essential characteristics and phonetic pronunciations of ten wine varieties (five red and five white) are provided below.

Red Wines


MERLOT (mer-'lO) - Merlot is a medium-bodied red wine that is rich and fruity, and higher in alcohol content. Aromas and flavors of merlot include black cherries and chocolate.

CABERNET SAUVIGNON (ka-b&r-'nA-sO-vE-'nyOn) - Cabernet sauvignon is a full-bodied, tannic red wine with a blackcurrant flavor and smell similar to pencil shavings.

PINOT NOIR (pE-'nO-'nwär) - Pinot noir is a medium-bodied wine with berry (cherry, strawberry, rasperry) fruitiness and earthiness.

CHIANTI (kE-'än-tE) - Chianti is a medium-bodied wine with a spicy aroma of wild berries, and a dry flavor.

ZINFANDEL ('zin-f&n-"del) - Zinfandel is a full-bodied, dark red wine with a very fruity aroma and flavor. The most common aroma and flavor descriptors used with zinfandel are raspberry, boysenberry, and cranberry (all of which can be associated with jams).

White Wines


PINOT GRIGIO (pE-'nO-'grE-j(E-)O) - Light-bodied wine with a crisp, light citrus flavor. Often pinot grigio will have a hint of honey.

CHARDONNAY (shär-d&n-'A) - The world's most popular white variety. Chardonnay is a medium-bodied, dry, rich wine with smoky, vanilla, and oak flavors.

SAUVIGNON BLANC (sO-vEn-'yOn-blän) - Light-bodied, dry wine with grassy citrus notes and slight oak character. Saugivnon blanc is meant to drink young, as this is the most tangy and pungent of the wine varieties.

RIESLING ('rEz-li[ng]) - Light-bodied, slightly sweet wine with fruit accents and striking acidity.

GEWÜRZTRAMINER (g&-'vurt-str&-'mE-n&r) - The most intensely aromatic of all wines. Gewürztraminer is medium-bodied, and its aromas are of florals and spice.

Self Check: A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White...Wine Pronunciations Activity

Self Check: A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White...Characteristics Activity

Complete the two activities below to test your knowledge of wine characteristics (you will need to scroll down to complete the activities). Refer to Page 8, A Bottle of Red, A Bottle of White...What's the Difference, for assistance. Good luck!




Creating a Match between Food and Wine

The basic concept of pairing wine and food is to compliment and enhance the aroma and flavors of both the food and wine. Many people fear that they will ruin a meal if they select the 'wrong' wine, but this simply is not true. In fact, the most important thing to remember when pairing food and wine is to do what tastes good to you. That said, there are some general guidelines to keep in mind when selecting a wine to enhance one's meal.

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Balance. Wine should not overpower food, nor should food overpower wine. Simply consider the body and flavors of both the food and the wine when creating a match between the two. Pair light-bodied wines with lighter foods/lightly flavored dishes, and full-bodied wines with heartier, more flavorful dishes.

Dominant Food Flavor. When selecting a food and wine pairing, consider the most dominant food flavor. This is often the sauce or the seasonings used in the dish rather than the meat. For example, chicken with a lemon butter sauce will call for a different more delicate wine to play off the sauce than chicken cacciatore with all of the tomato and Italian spices.

Mirroring. One way of creating delicious food and wine matches is to mirror the characteristics of the food in the wine you choose. For example, a jammy, berry-flavored zinfandel works extraordinarily well with a rich meat and berry sauce because the flavor of the wine is mirrored in the sauce flavor.

Contrasting. Alternatively, selecting a wine that contrasts the flavor of the food (versus mirroring it) can create an amazing taste sensation. For example, pairing a low-alcohol, fruity wine like riesling with a spicy Jamaican Jerk Chicken dish will both frame and tame the spicy flavors of the dish.

Think Regional. Regional wine styles are developed to compliment the cuisine of that area. Accordingly, you won't go wrong pairing Italian cuisine with Italian wine.

Consider Acid, Sugar, and Tannin. Wine by itself tastes differently than when it is paired with food. This is because elements in wine interact with food to provide taste sensations (similar to spices). Acidity in food can make a wine without much acidity taste bland, sweet foods make wines seem drier than they actually are, and tannic wines should be paired with dishes high in protein (because the protein coats the mouth and makes the tannins in the wine seem soft and smooth).

Remember the Alcohol. Alcohol content in wine can have a huge impact on how it tastes with food. This is especially true when you are eating spicy foods, as alcohol intensifies spice. Accordingly, avoid pairing high-alcohol wines with spicy dishes. Instead, try sweeter wines as the sweetness cools down the heat of the spice.

Below is a chart of suggested food and wine pairings:


Self-Check: Creating a Match between Food and Wine

Below, you will find four dishes and four wines. Complete the activity by matching each food with the appropriate wine. Refer to Page 11, Creating a Match between Food and Wine, if you need assistance. Good luck!

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Final Points to Ponder

At this point, you should be able to describe the wine making process, properly taste wine, describe differences between varieties of wine, and appropriately pair food and wine. In addition, you must always remember the following: Food and wine pairing is an art, not a science, and you should always select combinations that appeal to you. Keeping this in mind will enable you to confidently order and purchase wine in every situation. Just to be sure, here are four food and wine pairing scenarios for your consideration (possible answers are provided below).


Scenario 1: Imagine yourself in a fine steakhouse known for its mouth-watering filet mignon. When the sommelier asks what wine you will be having with dinner, what will you say? Why?

Scenario 2: Picture yourself at a delicious seafood restaurant overlooking the ocean. You've decided to order the halibut and cream sauce special for your meal. What wine will you pair with your fish? Why?

Scenario 3: You and your significant other decide to have Chinese take-out for dinner. You stop at the local wine store on your way home to pick up a bottle to have with your meal. What wine will you purchase? Why?

Scenario 4: You are celebrating your friend's birthday at his favorite Italian restaurant, and you have been given the responsibility of ordering a bottle of wine for the table. What will your selection be? Why?

Possible Answers to the Scenarios:

Scenario 1: Perhaps you chose to pair a full-bodied red such as a zinfandel or cabernet sauvignon with the filet mignon. Maybe you considered the tannins in these red wines and decided the protein of the meat would coat your mouth and make the wine tannins seem soft and smooth.

Scenario 2: Perhaps you chose chardonnay because your meal is a seafood with a rich sauce.

Scenario 3: Perhaps you chose gewürztraminer because you are eating highly spiced Szechuan dishes.

Scenario 4: Perhaps you chose chianti because you were thinking regionally.

Remember, it doesn't matter which wine and food pairings you choose as long as your selections taste good to you.


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