Texture Makes All the Difference

June 9, 2009 No comments yet

As a trained sommelier, I often get questions about which food pairs better with which wine. Or I get the reverse question – which wine pairs well with a certain food.

You can approach it from either angle. There is no “right” answer. Some people always select their wine first and others select their food first. If you have a favorite dish you want to prepare for guests, then by all means start with the food and then select a wine that goes well with that food. Conversely, if you have a special bottle that you want to open with a friend, then you would select the appropriate food that will complement your special wine.

One of the tricks that I have learned over the years is that TEXTURE plays a major role in pairing. Food and wine both have texture. Let’s take the example of a ribeye steak and a tenderloin.

Think of the ribeye steak with its big flavor, but also with its fat. The ribeye is more flavorful, but is much tougher than a tenderloin. The texture could be considered as “coarse and rough”. The tenderloin has almost no fat. It is very tender, but has comparatively less flavor than a ribeye. The tenderloin can be considered as “delicate and elegant”.

Not just any red wine will go with both steaks. For the ribeye, you need a bigger red that has good acid to cut through the fat as well as big fruit and tannins to stand up to the toughness of the meat. But that big red would dominate the tenderloin and diminish your enjoyment of the meal. With the tenderloin, you would select a wine that is smoother and softer. Its elegance would match the tenderness of the meat and maximize the pairing. Yet, this more elegant wine would fall flat if served with the ribeye.

Notice that we really haven’t talked about specific flavors or sauces. We have simply talked about the texture of the food along with the texture of the wine. For me, this is probably the first building block to master when pairing food and wine to maximize your enjoyment at the table.

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