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A Lesson in the Culinary Arts: Selecting the Perfect Wine for the Meal

Aug 17, 2007
Often, a novice wine drinker will pair the same wine; a long-standing favorite or a less expensive variety, with every single meal he or she eats. However, as any expert in the culinary arts knows, wine must be carefully chosen to go with the meal, snack, or dessert the person is eating. A well-chosen wine should complement the food it is served with.

The general rule of thumb, which many people, even the novice wine drinkers know, is that red wine goes with red meat and white wine with white meat. This means that meals where the central focus is a steak, lamb chops, or another rich red meat should be served with red wine. Likewise, meals where the main course includes white meat, such as poultry or fish, or a meat substitute are best with a white wine. However, this is a very simplistic rule for choosing an appropriate wine; those who are better versed in the culinary arts have a slightly more complicated set of rules for choosing the perfect wine for a meal.

Essentially, the intensity of flavoring in your meal is best complemented by a wine with an equally intense taste. In other words, meals that are heavier and richer, such as steaks, lamb chops, and other red meats, go best with the full-bodied flavors of most red wines. Meals that are lighter go best with the lighter tastes in most white wines. Once you understand this rule, you will understand why, for a true connoisseur of wine and the culinary arts, a red wine can be paired with a heavily spiced poultry dish, and a white wine may be used to complement a red meat dish with a mild taste.

Another way of determining the perfect wine judges by the taste of the wine, rather than its color. Wine contains two very different types of tastes: the acidity level of the wine, and the sweetness level of the wine. In general, a wine should be chosen to match these levels in the wine with those in the food. This guideline makes it possible to choose wine for meals, snacks, and even desserts that do not include meat. For instance, fruit and cheese are two types of food that are often paired with wine. Fruit, which contains high levels of both sugar and acid, is often paired with a sweet wine that has a high acidity level. Likewise, cheese best brings out the taste of a wine with low levels of sugar and acid. Food that is heavily spiced, on the other hand, may be best with a wine that has a low sweetness rating but a higher acidity level. Dessert is best served with a dessert wine; a wine that is very sweet but has a low acidity level.

Naturally, there are always exceptions to the rules, even in the culinary arts. For instance, pizza and fast food can be difficult to select a wine for, especially when trying to use the above rules. Many experts in the culinary arts suggest that rather than trying to match the acidity level of your wine to low acidity levels present in fast food and pizza, you select a wine with higher acidity levels. A more highly acidic wine complements pizza and fast food not by its similarities to the food, but by balancing the tastes present in the food. However, the sweetness levels should still be matched. A wine that is not sweet enough will taste bitter when paired with a sugary food, such as hush puppies or Hawaiian pizza, and a wine that is too sweet will seem shocking and syrupy if it is served with a salty or sour food, such as French fries.

An understanding of the culinary arts is an important part of planning a meal. Everything from the various different foods you service down to the wine available with each meal needs to be carefully chosen, so that all of the flavors complement one another. A badly chosen food or wine will clash with all of the other tastes present in the meal, disrupting or even ruining the experience. Any good host or hostess will pay close attention to the teachings of the culinary arts when choosing a wine to accompany his or her meal.
About the Author
Andy West is a freelance writer for The Culinary Institute of Virginia College. Culinard offers two outstanding culinary arts programs. For more information please visit http://www.culinard.com .
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