What are you tasting when you taste wine?

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Here is another installment from our Wine Manager Darrell Gibson, giving you some tips on wine pairings. Check back often for wine-based instructional blog posts from Darrell and the rest of our team at Dallas Lovers.

The sensual experience of a great food and wine pairing can be extraordinary; however pairing these two individual items can also seem confusing and intimidating.  Matching a wine with a meal can actually be easy and fun just by understanding a few basic guidelines.  To eliminate any possible barriers, the following series of posting will examine some major food and wine pairing methods that you can try at home.

The only difficult part is to remember that there is no such thing as the perfect combination for everybody.  We all have our own likes and dislikes. In addition, wine can taste completely different paired with different foods. The best way to discover your own perfect food and wine combinations is to experiment at home with a few simple guidelines. Once you develop the courage to experience wine on your own terms, you will soon discover that wine can make every meal an occasion and every occasion a daily indulgence.

Smell is one first thing you encounter when opening a bottle of wine and it can tell you a lot. You have the ability to smell an untold number of scents and aromas and there are hundreds of aroma compounds found in wine. As you learn to smell wine, you’ll become more adept at isolating and identifying these aromas. Identifying the smells will give you a clear impression of the wine before you taste it.

When you taste food, and wine, you are looking to identify: sweet, sour, bitter, and salt. With wine sweet (natural grape sugar) reduces bitter and acid tastes. Sour, the acids in the grapes, causes salivation, bitter is a result of tannins and create a drying effect. Salty is rarely found in wine.

Taste sensation also has to do with hot and cold, both in the physical temperature sensation from the wine, as well as the leave of spice in the wine to cause heat.

Food and wine both have their own unique texture. Texture can be defined as how a wine or specific food feels in the mouth. Skim milk feels rather thin, but heavy cream feels thick and coating. Poached fish can feel lean and light while a grilled steak with a rich sauce will feel mouth-filling and highly textured. The same goes for wine: A dry Sauvignon Blanc, fermented in stainless steel, will be refreshing, with a light texture. Where as an oak-aged Chardonnay will be thicker in texture and richly coat the mouth. The same goes for a lighter red as compared to a heavier red.

Different wine-making techniques will also affect the texture just as different cooking techniques effect texture. Malo-lactic fermentation creates the creamy, buttery texture you most likely associate with Chardonnay. You might have seen the words “sur lie” on a bottle of Loire white wine. Sur lie translates to “on the lees,” but what exactly are wine lees and what do they do? Lees are leftover yeast particles that add additional flavor components. White and sparkling wines that are aged on the lees are often described as creamier, richer, fuller-bodied, or with a greater depth and complexity of flavor. Stainless steel and wood aging also have large impacts on the mouth-feel of wine.

Cooking methods with food are important in matching food and wine. The heavier the preparation… the heavier the wine. For example, poached white fish finds it’s match with crisp light white wine that has no oak. Grilled fish is more suited for heavier oak aged white wine or light-bodied red.