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6 Mistakes to Avoid When Pairing Food and Wine

Finding the right food and wine pairing can significantly enhance your dining experience. However, many people lack the expertise of most wine-tasting connoisseurs and may not know what they should taste or feel. 

As a result, the wrong wine can potentially ruin a delicious meal. Avoid making these six pairing mistakes when searching for the best food and wine combination. 

Mismatching Intensities

A common mistake with food and wine pairings is not considering flavor intensities — for instance, pouring a full glass of Zinfandel with a light salad. Conversely, delicate wines tend to be overpowered by creamy or savory dishes, ultimately falling flat.

Often, these pairing mistakes derive from the notion that one should drink whatever they prefer with any dish. However, the wrong wine is less enjoyable when paired with an unsatisfying meal. A better approach would be pairing richly-toned wines with rich foods and delicate wines with lighter fare.

For optimal intensity and aroma, aerate your wines in a decanter before serving them to guests. Decanters allow wines to breathe and enhance flavors by releasing gases and muting tannins. 

Infographic provided by Iron Mountain, a commercial kitchen equipment provider

Choosing Desserts Sweeter Than the Dessert Wine

A dessert wine can be a delectable after-dinner drink to pair with a pastry. Yet, there are rules to choosing the perfect one.

Too much or too little sugar can kill the delight of drinking dessert wines. Look for the following terms on the label for the wine’s sweetness levels:  

  • Doux, dolce or dulce: “Sweet” in French, Italian and Spanish
  • Moelleux: “Sweet” for French wine varieties
  • Amabile: Italian for “semi-sweet”
  • Demi-sec and Semi-secco: “off-dry” in French and Italian

If your dessert happens to be sweeter than the wine itself, you’ll end up with bland, watery and perhaps bitter flavoring. Instead, choose a very dry or excessively-sweet wine — such as Moscato — to best complement desserts.

Pairing High Tannins and Alcohol With Spicy Foods

A surefire way to break an even bigger sweat while eating spicy foods is to pair your dish with an equally spicy wine — an effect most people prefer to avoid.

Wines containing high alcohol and tannins — the natural compounds derived from grapes that infuse a hint of bitterness — accentuate heat. At the same time, sparkling wines also create an uncomfortable burning sensation in your mouth.

Pick a wine with some sugar to balance spicy, hot flavors. If you’re unsure whether a bottle of wine contains high tannin amounts or alcohol, check to see that the alcohol by volume (abv) is less than 15% or whether the flavor profile describes fruit compote or overripened cooked fruit. 

Drinking Champagne Strictly During Celebrations

Champagne is often reserved for marking celebratory occasions. Yet, sparkling wine is enjoyable with all meal courses — that is, if you find one that matches your dish’s intense taste. 

Many people sip sparkling wines for their acidity, making them the perfect palate cleansers. They also tend to pair well with creamy, rich and fatty dishes. For example, you may be surprised to learn that champagne complements fried chicken or heartier pork entrees.  

Sparkling wine with oysters or caviar is another harmonious pairing due to sparkling wines’ silky consistency and vibrant aroma.

Serving Wine at the Wrong Temperature

If you’ve ever felt the dissatisfaction of drinking a warm can of soda, then you can imagine nothing is worse than taking a sip of a lukewarm white wine. Serving wine at the wrong temperature is one of the biggest wine pairing mistakes you’ll want to avoid making. 

Generally, red wines should be between 62° and 68° Fahrenheit — just slightly above room temperature. Likewise, white wines are best served between 49° and 55° F.

You can tell a lot by a wine’s aroma. For instance, if the smell of alcohol burns your nose, the wine is probably too warm. If you’re drinking a cheaper or lower-quality wine, refrigerating it can tone down its aromatic flaws. 

It’s important to remember that wine changes as years and sometimes decades pass. Regardless, temperature plays a vital role in the aging process. You can ensure wine lasts longer by storing bottles at colder “cellar temperatures.”

Boxing Yourself in With One Wine

Perhaps there’s one particular wine that you drink time and again. Maybe you tend to pair it with every dish, regardless of sweetness, spice or richness. You might not even be aware that you’re missing out on unparalleled intensity and taste satisfaction when you drink your favorite wine with the wrong foods. 

Pairing wines correctly requires you to step outside your comfort zone and open yourself up to different grapes varieties, acidities and textures. For all you know, your true wine preference may come from another part of the world or wine family entirely. 

It’s always worth exploring different flavor palates, especially since fruity or oak notes may hit people’s wide-ranging palates in various ways. The worst that can happen is disliking a wine for one reason or another and trying something else.

Listen to Your Taste Buds

Wine experts around the world offer several suggestions for food and wine pairings. However, you know what you like the best. There’s no point in drinking a particular wine if you don’t relish the taste. Instead, you should enjoy whatever combination you love and not worry about whether it’s a common pairing.

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