Rules about pairing wine with food used to be so stuffy: white wine goes with fish, red wine goes with beef, and rosé is only consumed by women. Thankfully, times have changed! There are countless wines that go with assorted dishes and you can steer your pairing choices to what you want to bring out most in your food.
We'll review some surprising and innovative examples of how to pair wines with your favorite autumn meals—but first, let's make sure you aren't overwhelmed by all that pesky wine-specific terminology! Here are some of the basic terms used in the world of wine tasting, and what they mean:
- Palate: Your palate is the roof of your mouth. The word also is used to describe what flavors you can taste in a food or beverage. "Stone fruit on the palate" would mean that you can taste hints of peaches, plums, or other small fruit with a pit when you taste the wine.
- In (or On) the Nose: Not surprisingly, this term refers to what you can smell. "Tobacco in (or on) the nose" means would might notice hints of tobacco in the wine's aroma.
- Bouquet: Another word to describe the aroma of wine is its bouquet.
- Decant: A decanter is a bottle that wine is poured into, allowing it to breathe. This step is optional, but adds a sophisticated quality to enjoying wine with your dinner.
- Breathing: Once decanted or poured, a wine's exposure to air allows it to "open up." A wine's flavors change once it's exposed to oxygen, usually for the better, and become less intense or sharp.
- Tannin: The feeling of wine drying your mouth out comes from its tannins, which are natural compounds. Red wine tends to be much more tannic than white.
As far as tasting terms go, they're pretty straightforward: when someone refers to wine as grassy, they mean it's reminiscent of grass. When calling something acidic or tart, they mean that's sour. Buttery is a word for wine being rich and smooth on the palate like butter is, oaky implies a woody flavor, jammy means deep fruitiness, and floral implies a light flavor of flowers.
Now that you understand some basic terminology, what wine should you choose to go with your meal? Don't feel constrained by what you learned years ago! Palates have evolved, wine varietals have broadened, and you don't need to stick to old wine rules any more than you'd care to watch a movie on VHS. Here are some modern guidelines that will make for interesting autumnal meal pairings:
- Salmon goes great with red wine such as Pinot Noir. Because salmon is a flavorful, heavy fish, it can stand up to a lighter red wine such as Pinot. This same concept holds true for other fatty or strongly flavored fish, such as mackerel.
- Roasted autumn veggies dressed with vinaigrette benefit from an acidic wine like Sauvignon Blanc. It may sound counter-intuitive that an acidic dressing would work with an acidic wine, but they work well together! A sweet or mild wine could get lost on your palate when eating a vinegar-y salad.
- The sweetness of zinfandel compliments the richness of beef stews and other slow-cooked dishes. Similar to how acidic wines pair well with vinaigrette, jammier and heavier wines can go nicely with rich entrees. In this season of slow cooking, a hardier wine can be more comforting and enjoyable than a lighter, more acidic one.
- Fried foods benefit from sparking wine. The bubbles help lighten the heaviness of the fried item and give the sensation of clearing fattiness off your palate.
- Indian food and Rose might sound like one of the strangest marriages ever, but the light sweetness and acidity of Rose can compliment the spice of Indian food. Choose a flavorful pink or orange wine in order for it to best stand up to Indian spices.
- Game meats are popular during the fall and winter, and their strong flavor can seem hard to match. That doesn't mean your wine needs to be full-bodied, though! Tough boar is great with Viognier, which tastes similar to chardonnay; bison's leanness benefits from a sharper wine like Merlot.
Now that you're equipped with all the knowledge you need to grab a great bottle of wine along with your dinner ingredients, your evening is bound to be enjoyable. Cheers!