Please note that this post, authored by sommelier Marnie Old, is sponsored by Wine Simplified, an interactive wine book for iPad, iPhone, PC & Mac.
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The following is an excerpt from Wine Simplified by author and sommelier Marnie Old.
How to Pair Wine with Raw Food vs. Cooked Food
As we all know, foods taste differently depending on whether they are raw or cooked. The application of heat changes a food’s texture and breaks down nutrients to make it more digestible. But of greatest importance to wine pairing is the change of flavor that occurs when a food is heated and browned. Whether browning is a result of caramelization (as with fruits and vegetables) or of Maillard reactions (as with meats and starches), it adds a distinctive nutty, “cooked” flavor.
Generally speaking, the more prominent the flavor of browning is in a dish, the more likely it is to pair harmoniously with wines that are aged or oaked, since cooking and barrel-aging impart similar toasty flavors. Think of it this way — fermenting or aging wine in oak barrels is a form of browning, too. The toasting of the barrels and the slow, controlled oxidation of the wine inside as it breathes have a subtle impact on the color of the wine, and change its flavor. Like leaving a sliced apple on the counter, barrel-aging wines exposes them to oxygen that browns them in both flavor and color. It adds a golden hue to whites like Chardonnay and gives red wines like Rioja the russet tinge of maturity. Just as raw foods feature a vibrant freshness, so, too, do young, unoaked wines — which are protected from oxidation by non-porous stainless steel and glass.
Some cooking methods, such as boiling or steaming, impart no browning to food at all. But many of our favorite ways to cook, from toasting to roasting, add the flavor of browning. When we turn up the heat by frying or grilling, browning has even more impact flavor-wise.
Tips and Tricks of the Trade
- Match fresh foods served raw — like salad and sushi — to the youngest, freshest-tasting wines, i.e., unoaked wines. Save oak-aged wines for foods that have been cooked and in which the flavor of browning is present.
- Match the degree of browning in the dish to the impact of oak in the wine’s flavor. The oakiest wines fare best with foods that are grilled, sautéed, or fried, or accented with toasty or smoky elements. When the browning is less noticeable, as with roasted or baked dishes, a more balanced oak presence is more suitable.
- The flavors that emerge in food with low-and-slow cooking methods like braising share some of the complexities of flavor found in wines that are bottle-aged. Cooking methods that rely on a quick sear to preserve some of the freshness of the food flavor find more harmony with younger, fresher wines.