During these surreal “lockdown” times one of the benefits has been the (greater) amount of time many of us have been able to devote to menu planning and cooking. With wine companies like WineTrust able to supply wines directly to your door, and most of us venturing out once a week to do the main shop this has brought a whole new focus to our lifestyle. If you are not one of our heroic front line key workers, many of us have realised just how much time and focus we can give to planning and preparing the main meal of the day – and which wine will work best with it. With Summer just around the corner this seemed an appropriate time to look at this subject matter in more detail – and to explore how component items in food directly affect – and maybe challenge – certain wines. This includes a particularly interesting flavour component called umami! And, of course, to recommend some Wine Trust wines to enjoy with seasonal offerings. On this first part I will be talking food and wine pairing during the summer season.

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Food & Wine Pairing – Summer Season

Matching wine with food is not an exact science but there are some common denominators which both make sense and work. Above all matching is often about avoiding a clash of flavours, rather than a marriage made in heaven! The most important rule probably remains, drink what you enjoy most with whatever you are eating – personal preference is the final arbiter.

A few simple examples
• Match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine; by that a light dish is best served with a lighter wine – white, rosé or red. Bolder, richer foods call out for “bigger” wines
• Always consider the sauce (if there is one) – select a wine to match the sauce more than the food ingredient itself
• Go for crisp, clean and high acid wines with high acid foods (a dish with a tomato base to take one example). High acid wines also cut through fatty and oilier foods very well
• Always have sweet wine with sweet foods – try and make sure the wine is at last as sweet as the dessert or it will taste disappointingly dry
• Full bodied, dry, tannic reds will work well with meaty, rich, and “chewy” foods – even if you would not dream of drinking them on their own (without food). They can work well with char grilled vegetables and very savoury examples such as certain (wild) mushrooms
• “Soft” and spicy wines work better with spicy foods (maybe a no brainer!)

The biggest challenge – “umami” – what is it?

The human palate can taste four fundamental flavours – sugar, salt, acid, and bitterness. All other sensations are what might be termed as “textural” – for example does something taste “creamy” (viscous). But there is now a fifth element, which is broadly accepted, and this can be the most challenging for wines. The Japanese refer to it as umami – which simply translated relates to savouriness in foods.
First identified and christened by Japanese chemist Kikunae Ikeda in 1908, he identified how glutamates in foods created a “pleasant “brothy” or “meaty” taste with a longer lasting, mouthwatering and coating sensation over (the whole surface of) the tongue”.

Examples of foods containing high levels of umami are:
• Mushrooms – especially Shitake
• Oily and smoked fish
• Shellfish
• Tomatoes – especially when dried, purée or confit
• Cured meats – salami and hams
• Vegetables such as cabbage, spinach, celery
• Unprocessed, natural cheeses
• Fish and soy sauces
• Marmite!

And maybe, most surprisingly, many infants get their first umami hit in life from breast milk!

These various savoury items above – apart from breast milk of course – are more demanding on wine than other general foods items. By that, they can overwhelm a wine, or make it taste strange. To take one (maybe extreme) example, try (high level umami) smoked salmon with a red wine and it makes the wine tastes bitter and metallic.

But this does not mean you cannot pair a wine with an umami dish – you just have to be a bit more selective. Not unsurprisingly wines which themselves might have a “savoury” taste often compliment an umami dish. And there are counterbalances – both acidity and salt are, in moderate measures, wine friendly and help to balance the umami notes in the food – hence (partly) why smoked salmon is salted, and we then add a spray of lemon juice on serving. This in turn makes the food more wine friendly.

I ‘ll see you on part 2, where I will be talking about how to drink red wines during the summer season.