What is Food Friendly Wine?


Question from Bill: What do you mean when you say that the wine is food friendly?

Reply: Hi, Bill. Thanks for writing. I know I use that phrase quite a bit. First, let me say that all wines are inherently food friendly because of their basic structure. High acid beverages – tart or crisp beverages that aren’t sugary – have a cleansing effect that makes them very food friendly. And, wine is higher in acid than just about any food you can imagine unless you like to snack on fresh lemons. So the thing not to do is worry about this. Besides – preferences are personal!

White wines are generally higher in acid than reds so they’re extremely versatile – it’s really hard to go wrong. So, yes, that means that if you prefer a glass of Pinot Grigio with your short ribs, go for it. Tastes fine, right? The wine still tastes like the wine and the food still tastes the same when you put them together. But, not so satisfying? The thing is, that some foods, like slow-cooked red meats, have so much flavor that, while the crisp white wine isn’t a miss-match it, somehow, doesn’t do the trick. Many of us prefer a wine of ample body to stand up to those substantial flavors and that usually means red wine.

Since wine is, generally, so compatible with food, maybe we should approach it from the negative – what creates pairing challenges. The things that make wine a little more challenging to pair with food are things like low acid, high alcohol, lots of tannin and lots of oak. What do those things bring to mind? Red wine, right? Reds are usually made from fairly ripe grapes, which softens the acid and creates relatively high alcohol. And, alcohol gives red wines much of their weight. Also, the weeks the red wine spent macerating with the grape skins gives it color, additional body and also tannin. And, reds are more likely to be oaky than whites, except for Chardonnay. So, it sounds like red wine has several counts against it.

Does this mean that reds aren’t any good with food? You already know the answer to that question. Of course they are. Your choices are just narrowed a bit, that’s all. You think of things like red meat, slow-cooked meat dishes or barbecue – they have lots of flavor. Salty and fat-rich flavors work beautifully with red wine. That helps explain why Napa Valley winery chefs are so crazy about duck confit. That fatty, salty duck is just great with these big Napa Cabs. Dry, aged cheeses work really well too.

Again, high acid wines can really go with almost anything. So, that’s sparkling wine, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Grigio for a start. Reds are more challenging but Pinot Noir is a good option and reds from northern Italy are very reliably food friendly.

Wines from cool climates are versatile because they’re usually relatively high in acid. That’s most of France and Germany in the old world. In the New world, think New Zealand, New York, Willamette Valley, the Yarra Valley or Tasmania in Australia… The list goes on and on.

So, the good news is that most wines are food friendly! And, again, first and foremost, pairing preferences are completely personal.  We all know someone who drinks red wine with just about everything, right? But, don’t ever let anyone make you feel bad about ordering a glass of Moscato with your spaghetti. You’re the one who’s going to eat it and you’re the best judge of what enhances your meal! Cheers!

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