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Barons Creek Vineyards

Texas' Best Wine Experience

Jonah Wilamowski
March 15, 2023 | Jonah Wilamowski

The Official Guide to Wine Pairing: For Beginners

The Official Guide to Wine Pairing: For Beginners

Knowing how to pair wine and food is essential for anyone putting together a nice anniversary dinner, birthday feast, or casual afternoon with friends. Pairing adds another dimension of excitement to any event with food and drink at the center - and it all starts with taste.

Wine tasting unlocks a world of enjoyment - sinking into the moment, living only through your senses, only through the glass for a brief moment - stretching out time.

Wine and food pairing takes this experience to the next level - you link that enjoyment to a meal, unlocking an interplay between wine and food that engages both the mouth and the mind.

And the secret fact is that you don’t need to be a chef or a sommelier to make great wine and food pairings. All you need are some basics of taste, how they apply to food and wine, and the desire to go and experiment.

Basics of Food and Wine Pairing: How To Taste

The short answer is that tasting wine is actually smelling wine; on a biological level, smell accounts for 90% of the ‘data’ that forms our taste of something.

With smell, the tongue interprets what it senses. Of the five basic tastes we can perceive – sweetness, acid, and bitterness apply to wine. Saltiness and umami apply to tasting any food you will pair with. All five are important in how food and wine relate to each other. Knowing these can make you seem like a seasoned pairing professional, fast.


Pairing Wine with Salty Food

Pairing Wine with Salty Food

Higher salt in food makes wine, by comparison, seem less dry, bitter, and acidic, especially if these elements are strong in a wine. If there is any fruitiness to the wine, this will increase. The body of the wine, how “thick” it feels (think of a scale, from water to milk, light to full bodied) will also increase.

Younger white wines with tart acidity, slight bitterness and utter dryness, can seem fresh and lively when paired with salty food, tasting more full, fruity, and less acidic.


Acidity in Food and Wine Pairing

Acidity in Food and Wine Pairing

Food with a dominant acidic element, like citrus, will make wine seem less dry and acidic. The contrast will also bring fruit character and any sweet notes present in the wine.

Having a wine with a high acidity makes it easier to pair with a range of foods. The brightness of the wine will stand up to many types of food. Wines like Sauvignon Blanc and Champagne, with famously high acidity, pair well with many different types of food.


Pairing Wine with Sweet Foods

Pairing Wine with Sweet Foods

Sweet food will increase dryness, bitterness, and acidity in a paired wine.

This is why champagne and wedding cake, though a ‘classic’ pairing, isn’t a good one - the sweet cake makes the already highly acidic, dry champagne seem even more biting and dry.

Sweetness is especially important when pairing desserts. A good dessert pairing should usually pair with a sweet dessert wine; it should always have a dessert that is less sweet than the wine it is paired with. Otherwise, the wine will be overwhelmed, lost in the dessert. 


Umami - the Savory Fifth Wheel of Wine Pairing

Umami - the Savory Fifth Wheel of Wine Pairing

As with sweetness, any umami taste will make a paired wine seem more dry, bitter, and acidic, and less sweet and fruity. Umami, the savory-centered element of taste, comes from foods like meat, mushrooms, tomatoes, and fish. This doesn’t mean that wines higher in acidity don’t pair well with umami - acid and dryness will just be highlighted, which can be very pleasant.

Fruity wines like Beaujolais (a red wine) actually pair well with smoked meats. The umami in the meat brings out the fruit in the wine, while the wine’s bold acid tames the rich meaty flavor, creating balance.


High Fat and Oily Food Wine Pairings

High Fat and Oily Food Wine Pairings

Foods high in fat, like steak, or oil, like fried chicken, will make a wine seem less acidic. Any acid in the wine is matched by the fat compounds in the food, which also coat your tongue and limit the piercing effect of acidity. 

A good match for fatty or oily food is a wine with a fuller body and concentration, that can stand up to the heavier profile of the food. A great example is steak and Cabernet Sauvignon. Steak has a high fat and protein content, which cuts through the dense, tannic, bold Cabernet, while also highlighting the complex fruit character of the wine.

A Note on Tannins

Steak and Cabernet is also a case study for pairing wine with a high tannin content.

What are tannins? You tell them by texture only, not taste. Think of black tea, or a mouthful of cinnamon. These seem to “dry out” your mouth when you drink or eat them. When you drink wine, especially reds, you can perceive a similar “drying” effect. This is from tannin molecules in the wine. The more you feel this “drying” effect, the more tannin.

The high tannin in Cabernet is cut by the fat in the steak, just like how milk makes black tea softer and creamier.


How to Pair Wine with Spicy Food

How to Pair Wine with Spicy Food

Spicy food creates a “heat” feedback loop with wine. Spice makes the alcohol in wine more noticeable, or “hot,” and the alcohol in the wine makes the heat of the food seem even spicier.

An easy pairing is with a sweet or highly fruity wine, which can soften the spice and make both food and wine uniquely enjoyable. An example is jerk chicken pasta and Gewurztraminer, an unlikely but tasty duo, where the spicy chicken and intense floral aromatics of the wine temper and magnify each other.


Classic Wine and Food Pairings with Red and White Wine

Classic Wine and Food Pairings with Red and White Wine

Of course, more than one of the five basic tastes are usually present in a dish. To make a pair, identify the one or two dominant tastes elements in the food. Pair with a wine that addresses those.

Or, if you have a wine, learn what its dominant traits are, and choose a meal that compliments its key features.

Here are some examples of pairings with the five elements of taste in action, using some other traditional tips. We’ll use Barons Creek Vineyards’ Reds and Whites for some classic pairings:


Red Wine Pairings

Cabernet Sauvignon

Red Wine Pairings - Cabernet Sauvignon

You want to pair exceptional wines with great food - and Barons Creek Crazy Train Cabernet Sauvignon is among the most excellent red wines that Texas Hill country has to offer. The famous “Cab and a slab” pairing – Cabernet and steak – is a perfect pairing option. 

This works because the fat content of the steak matches the tannic boldness of the wine. This makes the wine seem even more fruity and smooth. A perfectly reverse-seared, juicy American wagyu tomahawk ribeye, though simple, is an elevated option for pairing with this versatile wine.


Red Wine Pairings - Grenache

Hippo, Barons Creek’s 100% Grenache offering, is “the Pinot Noir of the South” for its more delicate, lighter body like Pinot Noir, but packed with notes of ripe red fruit unique to Grenache. 

A pairing with Hippo can demonstrate the elegant power of pairing a delicate wine with a delicate dish. Neither should be too strong, but both should be distinct enough to complement each other. 

A simple but elegant pairing with BCV’s Grenache is with Spanish cured meats. Try it especially with salchichón (similar to salami), or, if you’re feeling indulgent, Iberico ham. 

The umami in the meats will heighten the fruity character of the Grenache, and the saltiness will create a satisfyingly fuller body as you sip.


Red Wine Pairings - Merlot

Merlot is the ‘Queen’ of the Right Bank of the Bordeaux in France, and here is the Queen of Hill Country. This wine is full-bodied and ripe with dark fruit and mocha - perfect to illustrate pairing a bold wine with a bold food. 

The dominant elements of this artisanal Merlot are its supple mouthfeel and dark fruit character. Medium bodied and lower in acidity, the bold fruit of this vintage matches well with Israeli Shakshuka, a tomato-based brunch favorite featuring poached eggs. Both tomatoes and eggs are an umami element that will increase the wine’s acidity and complement the wine’s fruitiness.


White Wine Pairings


White Wine Pairings - Chardonnay

Barons Creek Chardonnay is a tempting California-style expression ripe with apple and citrus, yet creamy from sur lie aging (letting wine sit on the spent yeast cells, imparting a creamy texture and aroma).

This wine is a ready candidate for a mirror-style pairing. Choosing a food that mirrors the main element in the wine complements both. Here, the creaminess of the Chardonnay can go well with buttery lobster, each mimicking the other.


White Wine Pairings - Rose

Rosé - the favorite of brunch and long summer afternoons. In classic style, featuring a bright acidity and tropical fruit, this wine can show the advantage of pairing by contrast.

Extroverted fruit and acidity in wine finds balance with creamy food like Oysters Rockefeller, with the cheesy, herbaceous richness matching the racy acidity of the wine. While you may not normally have oysters by the poolside, other excellent pairings are salmon, pizza, and swiss or feta cheese.


White Wine Pairings - Cava

The most charming and coveted wine in Barons Creek’s cellar is its Cava, a Spanish-style sparkling wine made in the traditional method (and actually vinted in Spain by our head winemaker). 

Sparkling wine are always a “flexible” wine –  high in acidity, fruity aromas and flavors, and low in tannin. Cava usually has high, crisp acidity and no tannins. 

Though you could pair much with this wine, some foods that show its flexibility most are artichokes or asparagus. These vegetables are among the most difficult to pair for their inherent bitterness. Cava’s acidity cuts through the strong vegetal flavors, and is complemented, appearing more fruity and bright.


Wine and Food Pairing is a Creative Adventure

Wine and Food Pairing is a Creative Adventure

So, you don’t have to be a restaurateur or wine professional to make smart and delicious wine and food pairings. 

All you have to know is how a flavor in food will make a wine taste in comparison, and vice versa. Simple elements from sweet, salty, acidic, bitter, and umami factors can translate into an inspired adventure of a meal, whether casually with friends or for a special night in.

Whether you stick to the science of tasting or lean towards tried-and-true culinary traditions, the ultimate way to pair food and wine - and the most fun way - is to marry them both, and experience the adventure of experimenting with artisanal wines and delicious food.


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