Food & Wine Pairing 101: Acidity

Emily and I collaborate on a perennially popular food and wine pairing class wherein she cooks up six delectable courses and I pair them with a lineup six distinctly different styles of wine.  We eat, we drink, we talk pairing strategies, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

This sudden stretch of gloriously warm weather has me thinking of one of the most vital pairing principles that we feature in our class: balancing the acidity in your food with that of your wine.

This is especially in the summer months when we tend to lighten up the foods we eat with tart vinaigrettes and generous squeezes of lemon rather than fortifying them with the bacon and butter we crave when it’s cold. (Alright, I crave bacon and butter all year…but just a tad less frequently when it’s sweltering out.)

Similarly, the wines we reach for as the temperature rises tend toward the light and crisp side, rather than the rich and decadent. Well, it just so happens that these light, tart foods and crisp, refreshing wines work together perfectly. Why? It’s all about matching the acidity level of what you’re eating to that of what’s in your glass.

When you’re eating a fresh green salad with a sharp vinaigrette, your palate is coated with acidity.  If the next thing you taste happens to be an unctuous, buttery Chardonnay you won’t actually be able to notice any of the acidity in that wine.  You palate is already overwhelmed with tart flavors, so what little acidity exists in such a rich wine won’t be perceived at all – the wine will taste fat, flabby and out of balance.

If you instead had a zippy, tart Sauvignon Blanc, Chablis, Dry Riesling, [insert any light, crisp white wine here] with tons of upfront acidity, it will stand up to the sharp vinaigrette.  More so, the two punches of acid actually work to negate each other, so you’ll notice the more subtle flavors in the food and wine even more.

In our class, Emily prepares a delicate poached shrimp salad with a tart herb vinaigrette, which I pair with a very classic style of Sancerre. The Sancerre (made from 100% Sauvignon Blanc grapes, as is always the case with white wine from the Sancerre region of France) is light and lemony with background ‘green’ notes that remind me of a mélange of herbs.

When paired with the aggressive vinaigrette on the shrimp salad, all that acidity is tempered, and I notice how nicely the herb vinaigrette echoes those green notes in the wine. Having the wine and the dish together makes each component better than it could be on its own, which is the mark of any successful food and wine match.

It’s a delicious experiment, and is exactly the kind of pairing I crave at this lovely, sunny time of year.

For insider access to all our wine and food pairing secrets, join Emily and I at Astor Center for the next session of ‘Wine & Food Pairing Essentials: A Workshop.’