Imagine what it would be like to enjoy a late, warm weather afternoon spent outdoors with a plate of grilled foods, a complimentary glass of wine and the company of loved ones. There would undoubtedly be intoxicating smells in the air, songs of cicadas filling your ears and the vibrant colors of sunset to provide momentary eye candy. Sounds like absolute nirvana doesn’t it? It can be, providing that all of the elements involved are spot on. Granted, unless you are a Hollywood Houdini, not all of those elements will be under your control. One that is under your control, however, is the menu. With that said, here are a few of my personal tips for pairing wines with grilled foods:
Fats and Acids
Before decanting a red or popping the cork on a bottle of white, think about the combination of fats and acids present within your grilling menu. Based on my food service experience, a highly acidic wine tends to pair well with fatty proteins and creamy sauces. The acidity’s ability to cut through the fat is part of the reason why I’d suggest such a thing.
So how do you know what a wine’s acid content is? The answer, in short, is research. You could get all scientific about it and conduct your own titration experiments. However, unless you just happen to have access to laboratory equipment that would be overkill. The simplest solution is to ask the wine maker or check out the bottle’s label. It should list the wine’s total acidity and pH level.
For example, let’s say that you plan on serving a plank grilled salmon. Maybe you even plan to dress it with a decadent, basil infused white sauce. If so, a Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling should set the dish off nicely. They tend to have pH levels in the 3.0 to 3.6 range, which are indicative of wines with a high acidity and tartness. I have found that wines with a pH level higher than that tend to be of the low acid, sweet variety. They tend to compliment delicate foods like lean proteins.
Sweet and Salty
In addition, keep in mind that the grilling process may intensify the sweetness of certain foods. This is especially the case with fruits. Thus, you’ll want to pair them with wines that won’t be overwhelmed by the increase in intensity. The same goes for salty rubs. I have found that they have a way of enhancing the fruit flavors inherent in some wines. As such, you’ll want to balance all of the flavors on your grilling menu accordingly. Suggestions include pairing Cabernet Sauvignon with apple smoked dishes and Port with cherry smoked ones.
Tannins and Alcohol Content
Lastly, you’ll also want to take into account the wine’s tannin level and alcohol content. In my opinion, wines with those elements in abundance should ideally be paired with strong, fatty foods. Examples include heavily seasoned, smoked pork butts and rib-eye steaks that have been treated with a flavor intense dry rub. Wines that tend to work well with such dishes include Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir and Shiraz.
Source: Personal Experience
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