Lover of wine but don’t know much about the science behind it or the best way to taste it?
Whatever the ingredients, the basics are the same: get the right balance of flavour, sugar and acid, add some yeast, and away you go.
Here are a few ways that will teach you quite a lot about how wine tastes and responds to food.
What you’ll need:
1 bottle of light white wine (Sauvignon Blanc)
1 bottle of tannic red wine (Cabernet Sauvignon)
2 glasses per person
1 lemon wedge per person
½ teaspoon sugar per person
½ teaspoon salt per person
1 slice of salami per person
First, pour each person half a glass of wine each.
Get a grip on acidity - Taste each wine and notice it’s acidity/how crisp or tart it is. One way to get a sense of acidity is to notice how much your mouth waters after a sip.
A lot of watering = a lot of acidity. You will likely notice that both wines are quite acidic, as most wines are.
Taste wine with lemon - Take a sip of white wine, and notice it’s acidity. Take a lick of the lemon wedge, and then take another sip of white wine and again, notice it’s acidity.
You will likely notice that the second tip tastes less acidic and fruitier than the first. Acidity in food will soften your experience of acidity in the wine you enjoy with it.
You’d probably assume that one acidic thing plus another acidic thing would add up and double the acidity, but with food and wine, it’s the opposite.
Taste wine with sugar - Take a sip of white wine and again, notice it’s acidity. Use your finger to take a good lick of sugar, then take another sip of white wine, and again, notice it’s acidity.
You’ll probably notice that the second sip of wine tastes more acidic than the first - perhaps even pretty sour. Sweetness in food will heighten your experience of acidity in the wine you enjoy with it.
This is why dessert is best with dessert wine - if you serve dessert with dry or unsweet wine, the dessert can make your wine taste sour.
Taste wine with salt - Take a sip of red wine and notice both its acidity and its tannins. (Tannins are the compounds that give you that dry-mouth sensation - you’ll probably feel it most in your gums).
Use your finger to take a lick of the salt, take another sip of red wine and again, notice both it’s acidity and tannins.
You will likely notice that the second sip of wine tastes both less acidic and less tannic than the first. You may also notice it tastes fruiter. Saltiness in food will soften your experience of both acidity and tannins in the wine you enjoy with it.
It’s a little contrary to logic, because we’re used to thinking of salt as a flavour enhancer - but with food and wine, it can be a softner.
Taste wine with salami - Take a sip of red wine and notice its tannins, then take a bite of salami and take another sip of red wine, and again, notice its tannins.
You will notice that the second sip of wine tastes less tannic and more fruity than the first. Fattiness in food will soften your experience of tannins in the wine you enjoy with it.
This is one reason a nicely marbled steak is wonderful with a big, bold Cabernet.
Depending on the food you serve with it, wine can taste very different. At the very least, you want to avoid making your wine taste worse - increasing the experience of its acidity or tannins, for example.
At the most, you might want to bend its characteristics more to your liking.
Tips to remember…
- Acidity and salt are good tools for food and wine - a little of each can help a food stand up to the acidity in wine. More can soften it.
- Fat is a good tool for food and wine - a little can help a food stand up to tannins in wine. More can soften them.
- Salt can also soften tannins.
- Sweetness in food has the opposite effect - even a little can make a wine taste more acidic and tannic. That’s why very sweet foods are best with very sweet wines.