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Balancing the Relative 'Weight' of Wine and Food

The first step in food and wine pairing is deciding which wine to serve with which food. You can break away from the old rules about serving white with fish and red with meat. Instead, try a more fundamental approach:

Take a taste, and decide if your wine is heavy, light, or somewhere in between.

Both food and wine have relative weights. In food, 'weight' is determined by the base ingredients - salad greens, for example, have a light, crisp quality, while beef is relatively heavy. The basic weight can be further defined by the richness of sauces, the presence of umami (tastes that are earthy, meaty, aged or savory), and the style of preparation. Fats, textures, and even the strength of flavors can also make a difference in the relative weight of food.


Francesco Tonelli
In wine, 'weight' is part of its basic character - a young, fruity Pinot Gris is much 'lighter' than, say, a big, bold Zinfandel. Serving temperature can influence the weight - when a wine is chilled, its aroma and flavors are muted, it tastes less sweet and less alcoholic, making it seem lighter. Take a taste, and decide if your wine is heavy, light, or somewhere in between.

Great pairings take the relative weights of food and wine into account. It makes sense to our palates to serve a grilled rack of lamb with a sturdy Zinfandel (rather than a delicate Riesling). In the same way it makes sense to serve a Sea Bass with a Pinot Grigio (rather than a heavy Cabernet). Many wines and foods are somewhere in the middle.


Imagine a balancing scale with wine on one side, and food on the other: The scale can be tipped quite far in one direction, and brought back into balance by adding the right ingredients. For instance, a seared ahi tuna can work beautifully with a heavier wine like a Merlot, by serving it with a sauce made with the Merlot.

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