If you’re looking to make your Valentine’s Day extra romantic, a bottle of good wine is in order. But if you're not an oenology expert, or a wine aficionado who already knows what you want, a visit to a nearby grocery or store with shelves upon shelves of fancy-sounding wines might leave you feeling exhausted. Worse, picking a wine that turns out not to match well with your dinner’s menu can ruin a potentially memorable evening.
“You’d want to create an experience that is harmonious. When [the food and wine] don’t match, the experience is discordant. It just doesn’t work. It’s like the food and wine are competing against each other for your attention,” said Jonas Ng, executive chef and owner of French restaurant Le Jardin in Bonifacio Global City.
Ng describes pairing the right wine with food pretty much like a boy-meets-girl story. Asked how a clueless person can find the perfect match, he advised, “It’s very personal. The best way is to do trial and error and see what works for you. The wine and food should make beautiful music in your mouth. If one starts hearing Vivaldi playing in the back of one’s mind during the meal out of nowhere, you know you’ve hit the sweet spot.”
But since Valentine’s Day is just around the corner, there’s simply no time to speed-date with wine. To make sure sparks will fly during your Valentine’s dinner, Ng offers the 101 on Food and Wine Pairing.
So you’re in the grocery store and you’re wishing a wine connoisseur would magically pop up and lend you a hand. Do not fret. Look for the wines that proudly present who their maker is and where they are from.
You’d know which ones are quality brands, not only by their hefty price tags but also by name of the wine-maker. “As a general rule, if the wine-maker is proud enough to put his or her name on the label and is very specific, indicating the chateau or the town, chances are it’s good wine. It’s the same when people say ‘if it’s laing from Bicol, it’s probably good’,” Ng added.
There is a rich variety of white and red wines, but for beginners, just take note of seven popular types: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Shiraz, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Chardonnay’s malleable grape is grown both in California and France. Most Chardonnays have a distinct buttered popcorn character, and are heavily influenced by oak.
Though not as popular as Chardonnay, Riesling from Germany is generally light-bodied wine with fine aromatics and a range of flavors like apple, lemon and peach to sweeter blends with hints of honey and marmalade.
Sauvignon Blanc is a French native, where the white grape produces a distinct mixture of flavors and aroma: guava, gooseberry, pepper and grass.
Syrah or Shiraz from Northern Rhone in France is usually dark, full-bodied wine and have flavors of blueberries, chocolate, tobacco, leather and black pepper.
Pinot Noir is one of those highly revered and expensive wines, because this red grape from Burgundy, France is a difficult grape to grow (its thin skin makes it prone to diseases). It is generally described as a wine with a silky texture, light in the mouth, and tastes like raspberry, strawberry and cherry.
Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are popular reds from Bordeaux, France. The former has a stronger taste and has more tannins—elements present in reds, but not usually in whites, that make wines taste "dry" in the mouth—while the latter is generally softer.
A person can start with his or her wine preference and then pair it with food, or do it the other way around.
Ng still remembers his very first successful food and wine pairing that changed the way he looked at wine.
“I had roasted duck and a pinot noir. When I tried them together, it didn’t taste like wine or duck anymore. It tasted like it was meant to be. Entirely metaphysical,” he said.
For starters, follow the basic rule: acidity cuts through the oiliness of food and balances it out. Tannins, on the other hand, soften proteins and round out the flavors.
2. Fatty or spicy or fried foods go well with the acidic and fruity Riesling.
3. Buttery but light dishes like pasta with white sauce need a boost like Chardonnay.
4. You can never go wrong with pairing steak and a glass of Cabernet or Merlot.
5. Grilled or braised meats like rack of lamb goes well with darker reds like Shiraz. But in general, grilled meats can go with any kind of red wine.
Wine should always bring out the best in a dish. A good wine pairing will not only elevate food's flavor, but will also give your date that extra romantic touch.