By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Wine wonderful wine! From the ancient times of the Roman God Bacchus and the Greek God Dionysus to today, the allure, the romance and even the temptation (!) of this special juice of the grape—whether red, white or rose—makes an impression. The world of wine is as intriguing as it is complex. From the formidable chateaus of France, to the majestic vineyards of Italy or Spain or South America, to the myriad varietals from the United States, Australia and New Zealand -- no matter where grapes grow and thrive, each region and each vintage makes their own special mark.
There is much to be said for appreciating wine poured into your glass. To sip and enjoy--to sip and savor-- to sip and understand the depth and delights of what you are drinking is illuminating not intimidating. Layers of flavors are filled with magic and mystery--from the light to the bold--the young to the old--the fruity to the hearty-- the smoky to the sweet.
The history of wine generally begins with the history of the civilization. The earliest known wine production started in Iran around 6000 BC. The Greeks started fermenting grapes in earthenware but it was the Romans who figured out fermenting in barrels was better. And they added the pomp and circumstance to sipping and appreciating the results of their labor. The Romans brought the vine to Gaul France and hence the French vineyard was born. France became one of the greatest wine producing countries followed closely by Italy and both still promote the importance of wine culture in taste and in health.
As the world has evolved so has the world of wine. Topography, climate, the sea, the sun and the soil all contribute to how the grapes thrive and grow in a region. Great food is meant to go with great wine.
To successfully pair food and wine, it is important to remember that complementary components, richness and textures must all come together to have that exquisite connection on your palette between your sip and your bite. The flavors of wine are derived from the specific elements of sugar, acid, fruit, tannin and alcohol just as the flavors of food derive from fat, acid, salt, sugar and bitter. This also helps distinguish the body of the wine to classify it as light, medium or full-bodied.
Let’s look at these vital components:
ACID: In both food and wine, acid is key. In wine it adds nerve, freshness and lift and some wines are more acidic than others. Acidity is the backbone of white wines and lighter red wines since it is the wines’ acidity level that makes them taste crisp and clean with a lift of flavor. Acid adds the same touch to food. Acidic foods include fish, tomatoes and salads with vinegar-based dressings. Salads can be a challenge for wine pairing but tangy lettuces like arugula or mustard greens can offset the herbal flavors in certain white wines. The acidity content of the wine should match the acidity of the dish to avoid washing out the taste of the meal and making it bland.
FAT: Wine doesn’t contain fat so when matching wine with some favorite fattier foods like meat or dairy, it is necessary to balance that fat with acid and cut it with tannin or pair its richness with alcohol. Tannin, a substance that is present in the skin, seeds and stems of grapes, is the prominent ingredient in red wine since the whole grape is pressed. This gives the varietals a deeper berry and earthy flavor and it is why big rich reds are ideal when eaten with steaks and meats or creamier cheeses.
SWEET: It is all about the sugar and food and wine both have it! But remember that there are varying degrees of sweetness that can match well when balanced right but can be terrible when there is too much or too little in one or the other. A rich red or oakier white wine works when there is a fruit sauce on an entrée or with certain desserts.
SALT: Salt and wine have trouble working together because it can strip the fruit from the red wine and fight the acids of the white. But a sweeter or a sparkling wine works because the carbonation cleans the palate of the salt.
BITTER: A bitter wine or taste is never right and may mean the wine has “corked”
TEXTURE: As a general rule, light-bodied wines are best with lighter foods and medium to full-bodied wines are winning combinations with heavier foods.
And don’t forget about champagne that hails from the Champagne region in northeast France. The claim to champagne truly belongs, legally and literally, only to the French. It was Dom Perignon, a 17th century cellarmaster, who is credited with blending the grapes and developing the fermentation of them to that perfect moment when superior flavor and fizz come together. He also realized that a thicker glass and a wider neck for the bottle was important to preserving the bubbles better. Although bubbly wines are now made throughout the world—Prosecco or Franciacorta in Italy, Cava in Spain, sparkling varietals in California, Australia and New Zealand—these are delightful variations on the original sparkling star itself!
Champagne is great at the start of a meal and can be classically paired with hors d’oeuvres and starters like caviar, smoked salmon and oysters because of the salty aspect. And it is terrific to sip at the end of a meal with a sweet like chocolate or cheesecake because the sugary aspects of the dessert and the champagne complement each other. And those who love champagne may be surprised to know that fried foods actually go well with champagne because the fizz breaks through the fat content.
The curious thing about white wine is that there isn’t anything white about it! It is actually yellow--in varying hues from pale to golden, buttery to bright. Light yellow and green grapes are pressed for this white juice and the clarity or depth of the shade of the color transpires as a result of fermentation and storage. The juice of red grapes is colorless so can also be used for white wines as long as the skin is fully removed. There are so many different types of white wines from countries around the world. France, Italy, Spain in Europe. California, Washington and Oregon in The United States, Argentina in South America and Australia and New Zealand all grow impressive white wine grapes with flavors of fruit, flowers and herbs. Some are dry, some are sweet ranging from light to medium bodied. There is Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Pinot Gris or Grigio, Riesling, Roussanne, Sauvignon or Fume blanc, Semillon, Viognier.
Rose wines are obviously pink wines and are also now called blush wines too. They are made from red grapes but are light pink because the grape juice stays in contact with its red skin for a very short time—only a few hours—so very little tannin is absorbed from the skin. Rose should be drunk chilled like a white wine. It is delicious to drink in warm weather as an aperitif or with a lighter meal. Rose is produced in Southern France in Provence, California, New Zealand. :
Red wine really does live up to its name, its color and its reputation! Earthy, Smoky, Chocolate-like, Berry-like, it's a lot of Big and Bold, Deep and Profound. Ruby Red, Velvet Red or Garnet Red. The grapes used to make red wine are dark red or purple and the juice is red because it stays in contact with the red skin for days or weeks during fermentation and absorbs that color from the tannins. There are lighter reds—like a Pinot Noir or a Grenache—or heavier red—like a Cabernet, Syrah or a Zinfindel. The longer it ferments the bigger the taste.
Red wine grapes are abundant around the world, each delectable in the palate, each a personal preference. France, Italy, Portugal, Spain, Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, the United States in California, Oregon or Washington : Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache, Malbec, Merlot, Pinot Noir, Sangiovese, Syrah/Shiraz, Zinfindel.
Remember from country to country, culture to culture, dish to dish, the world becomes a smaller place around the table. And certainly with a glass of wine!