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Solutions for tricky wine and food pairings

I received a message on Instagram asking which wines are best to accompany asparagus. It was a good question because there are foods that can have a negative impact on the flavours of a wine. When thinking of wine and food pairings it is important to remember that there are no rules governing which wine should accompany a particular dish. However, it is useful to know why a wine will taste a certain way when accompanying particular ingredients.

Beginning with asparagus. A vegetable that can be difficult to match because it has a high level of chlorophyll, giving the asparagus its flavour but which can make a wine taste metallic or harsh. Also, it is important to take into account how the asparagus is cooked, grilled, boiled or roasted, and the other ingredients on the plate. For example a good Sauvignon Blanc from New Zealand has aromas of freshly cut grass and asparagus, so it will work well as partner. A well made an Albariño or a Chablis are ideal also. It doesn’t have to white wine, it could be a Rosé made from Bobal or Mencia.

Most people love to eat Jamon and other cuts of charcuterie. The key here is to pair meats with less intensity of flavour with lighter flavoured wines. A well cured jamon will have a high level of umami together with fat and salt. Therefore, a wine with a higher level of natural acidity, such as a nice Champagne, will work well. Umami can make an acidic wine taste even more acidic, however, this will be counterbalanced with the fat and salt which make a wine taste smoother. If you prefer a red wine then choose a lighter bodied wine, with lower tannins such as a youthful Tempranillo, a young spicy Shiraz or a Beaujolais. Best to avoid oaky, more fully bodied reds as they will taste more tannic and drier.

I have noticed on our social media that during quarantine people are uploading images of more spicy foods, such as curry with chicken. Here the key is matching the wine with the intensity of the sauce. Sometimes contrasting styles can work best, for example a German Riesling or an Austrian Grüner Veltliner will work because they tend to be light, and often have a little bit of residual sugar which together reduce the impact of the heat of the dish and enhance the flavours.

Sushi is another tricky dish because it is delicate, includes vinegar in the cooking of the rice, and ti comes with different ingredients, shell fish, white fish, meat. I would suggest pairing these dishes with a wine that is dry, quite high natural acidity such as an Albariño or an Assyrtiko from northern Greece or a Grüner Veltliner. If you prefer reds, a youthful Pinot Noir or Mencia, both are relatively low in tannins but are naturally high in acidity. Be careful with the hot wasabi paste, it can kill you palate!

When selecting wines for vegetarian food try to look for unconventional wines. A vegetarian dish, such as a ‘nut roast’, will have a dense texture and umami and savoury flavours. So look for a wine with aromas of dried fruits and savoury flavours, such as a Pinot Noir with some oak ageing. With time a good Pinot can develop savoury flavours of mushroom and earthy characters.

Sweet dishes should be accompanied by sweeter wines. Pair the wine with the level of sweetness in the dish. Obviously this is more difficult if you are not familiar with the wines. However, it is always useful to have a Moscatel, or two, such as a sweet Moscatel from Valencia or a lightly sparkling Moscato d’Asti, in you wine selection at home.

If you have any questions about which wine to accompany a dish you like drop me a line.

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I am a Northern Irishman based in Valencia. My career in wine began more than three decades ago, in London. I am the founder of TheWinePlace.es, an online store, where wine enthusiasts can enjoy a selection of international wines and Verde Marte, a company dedicated to exporting Spanish wines. Also, Thewineplace.courses, an "approved program provider" of the courses of the prestigious WSET. I share my passion for wines through my media work writing weekly columns for the Spanish newspaper El Mundo and 5 Barricas, an online wine magazine.

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