We all love those scenes in movies when some suave secret agent confronts the big bad guy behind the dinner table, and completely humiliates him with his perfect knowledge of combining food with drinks. You may be rich as much as you want and hell-bent on conquering the world, but if you don’t know that Blanc de Blancs goes well with oysters, you will just look bad. While some may consider this particular skill a form of art, the truth is that basics are not that hard to cover. Let us give you few tips and set you on the right track.
Champagne - Flickr - Cyclonebill
The Power of Contrast and Mirroring
First “rule” of pairing the drink with food is very similar to the way you make a sauce for a dish. In other words, you should choose drinks that contrast the flavors of your food. Still, don’t be too excessive, too much contrast can make one flavor overpower other. Second method of pairing, called mirroring, goes in completely different direction and asks you to choose a drink which offers continuity with your dish.
Different Qualities of a Drink
Of course, in order to know what you are going to mirror and contrast, you must first understand that everything you drink or eat has a certain impact, which should be taken into consideration along with body upon pairing. So, if you are, for example eating a food with strong impact, such as braised short-ribs, you would want to drink something heftier than light pilsner. One thing affecting the body and impact of a drink is certainly an alcohol level, so for delicate food go with lower-alcohol drinks and vice-versa.
Acidity is another great tool for pairing. So, if you acquire Sauvignon Blanc through wine specials, you can use its bright acidity to contrast richness in the dish, just as you would squeeze a lemon wedge on a plate of fried clams. While, fat can coat your tongue, acid can cleanse it and restore the sense of taste. Same goes with carbonation, and sparkling wine and beer are perfect means for achieving it.
Tannin and Sweetness
Whether they are coming from stems, grape skins, or oak barrels, tannins offer structure and a slight bitterness to a wine. In red wines, devoid of too much acid, tannins enable them to mix well with rich red meats by offsetting fat and proteins. Still, combining tannin with super-spicy food can irritate the soft tissue of a tongue. Slightly sweeter dishes (think of ketchup, barbecue sauce, caramelized onions, etc.) can be accompanied with off-dry wine or beer, while sweeter drinks are perfect match to more spicy dishes, countering some of the heat.
Lemonade - Flickr - Vasilv
We haven’t forgotten all of you who don’t prefer alcohol either. While non-alcoholic drinks don’t have that much structure and texture as the alcoholic ones, they do have the same qualities we mentioned above, so you shouldn’t have too much of a problem finding the right match. By adding tannic and bitter notes, and polyphenols, you can create structures to stretch the flavor out. Tannin can be found even in various teas, so your options are not that limited.
These simple tips should give you necessary basics for developing food/beverage combination which will suit you the best. Once matching gets under your skin and you start making perfect combinations without even thinking about it, you will enjoy your food more and never again be embarrassed in some outrageously snobbish company.