“You must first understand the basics of wine and food interaction and then you can experiment with complete freedom,” says Nancy Gilchrist MW and wine educator. She was speaking at a tasting of the Black Label range from Paarl producer Backsberg done with different foods representing acidity, saltiness, sweetness, bitterness and umami.
Rules of thumb: saltiness reduces the perceived acidity of both food and wine (it increases the pH in your mouth and hence why caviar gets served with Champagne); acidity in food will decrease the perceived acidity in wine but will increase the perceived tannin in a red wine; protein meanwhile will reduce the perceived level of tannin in a red wine – protein being positively charged and tannins negative, thus cancelling each other out; pepper and spice will increase the perception of fruit but also the perception of alcohol – wines high in alcohol becoming warm at the back of the throat (and hence why wines naturally low in alcohol like German Riesling get recommended with Asian food); and finally wines high in umami (from tomatoes to soy sauce) tend to neutralise wine at best and suffocate them at worst so need to be “treated with caution”.
Gilchrist referred to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as “conciliatory wines” in the sense of working well with a broad range of foods. To prove her point, lemongrass with Backsberg’s new Beyond Borders Pinot Noir 2010, the plant’s citrus flavours pushing the wine’s already quite fine tannins even further back (grapes for the wine from Elgin). “Pacific Rim food is more and more popular and we’re all constantly in search of wines that work well with it”.
Before lunch, a Pinot Noir 1985 made from the lowly BK5 clone. Still remarkably together, it showed red cherry and some typical earthiness – not profound but quite charming. Of course, some wines don’t need any food at all.