Does it Really Matter Which Wine We Drink?

Matthew Smith |
Beer, Wine, and Spirits

Whether it’s Pinot Grigio or Pinot Noir, chances are you have a favorite wine. When consuming wine as a social beverage—that is, without food—it is appropriate to let your personal preference prevail. Consuming wine with food is a different story. People often have two common questions: “Does it really matter which wine we drink with food?” and “What’s the secret to a perfect pairing?”  The short answers are 1) yes, it certainly does matter and 2) the secret is easier to understand than you may realize.

A quick enological lesson: Wine contains natural preservatives known as tannins. Tannins, most prevalent in red wines, are found in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes and in the walls of oak barrels. The more pronounced the tannins, the more astringent they will feel on your palate (like what one might taste after drinking strong, bitter tea). Acid, found in both grapes and wine, adds vibrancy and creates a mouthwatering effect that's most recognizable after you swallow. These two components will either complement or clash with the flavors and ingredients of a particular dish. This is why pairing the right wine with the right dish is so important.

Most wine drinkers have some level of passion for food. You may have heard somewhere that a meal paired with the proper wine is like a good marriage. The magic created during culinary experiences is not complete until the bride and groom say “I do.” And, like a real marriage, they need to be compatible if the arrangement is going to work. 

A sommelier will not throw you out of a restaurant for drinking your favorite Cabernet Sauvignon with striped bass. However, depending on the chef’s preparation and considering the typical characteristics of this wine, they would probably advise you that the tannins of the Cabernet will clash with the fish’s mild flavors. In this situation, an unoaked Chardonnay such as 2010 Domaine Laroche Chablis St. Martin would be a much better accompaniment. Wines from Chablis tend to be pure with high levels of acidity. Free of any overpowering oak, the ripe fruit flavors of the wine will complement the richness of the fish while the zesty acidity cleanses your palate and prepares your senses for another delicious bite.

If I had a dollar for every time I’ve heard someone say, “I don’t like red wine,” I’d own my own winery. Though this may well be true for some, more often than not I have brought people around to appreciating all kinds of red varietals. It's about presenting them with the proper wine and food pairing. Next time you're shopping for wine, give this a try: a bottle of 2009 Monte Antico Rosso (85-percent Sangiovese with 10-percent Merlot and 5-percent Cabernet Sauvignon). First, have it alone; then, with pasta and your favorite red sauce. You’ll be amazed to find two different wines in one bottle.