For most people, takeout means beer. After all, it’s pretty easy to pick a beer that goes with pizza, or chinese, or burgers. But wine is trickier. Chances are you’ve taken a few sips of wine with takeout and found that your wine tasted funny, or off. You may have even dumped the bottle. Chances are, though, that the takeout was just too salty for your wine. Because salt and wine can be a tricky pairing. So, how can those of us who love wine enjoy it with our takeout? One way is to learn the intricate science of pairing. Another is to let us break it down for you in a way that’s easy to remember so that you can enjoy a nice glass of wine the next time you order out.
Wine and food both have elements that give them favors. When pairing, it is important to understand what you taste and feel in both a wine and a food and then pair things that complement each other.
- Sugar – How sweet the wine is. All kinds of wine: red, white, rosé, and sparkling can be sweet and are denoted as such. Wines are called semi-sweet if they are in between dry and sweet.
- Tannins – It’s hard to describe tannins but once you figure out what they feel like to you, you’ll never need an explanation again. Tannins are an organic substance found in different plant parts and one of the thing that moves a wine toward being dry, the opposite of sweet. Wine grapes and wood have tannins so red wines and oaked wines are the most likely places to taste them. In addition to the taste, tannins have a certain feel to them. The taste and feel of black tea is an example of something tannic – black tea is pretty much 100% tannin. If you like that dry, astringent, bitter feel and taste, you’ll probably like tannic wines.
- Alcohol – The amount of alcohol in a wine determines the wine’s body. The more alcohol, the fuller the body. The wine will feel thicker and heavier and when you tilt your glass you’ll see more “legs”.
- Fruit – At the most basic level, red wines will taste usually of black or red fruits whereas wine could be divided into citrus, melon, and tropical. Fruit is experienced from the nose through the taste.
- Acidity – This is what gives wine its zip and causes tart flavors. Wines that feel effervescent and light have high acidity whereas richer wines have lower acidity.
All of these factors influence how a wine pairs with food.
The elements in food are much easier to understand because we have far more experience understanding and using these descriptors with food as we do it our whole lives. When pairing, we don’t just talk about savory vs. sweet vs. salty, though. We’ll also talk about how things feel. For example: fat is more of a feeling, whereas sugar, salt, and bitterness are tasted. Acidity can be both tasted and felt.
Use these food elements to figure out which wine goes best, using our five tips for magical wine and takeout pairings!
- When your meal is fatty, you should focus on the feel of both the food and wine and aim for them to be opposites. The bitterness of tannic wines, or crispness of acidic ones, will keep your mouth guessing and the flavors from getting dull.
- Salty food, which much of takeout is, is tough to pair. Salt coats the tongue and makes it hard to enjoy the complexity of wine, makes highly alcoholic wines taste bitter, and does bizarre things to Chardonnay. Your best bet for salty food? Bubbles! Each sip wipes the palate clean. Any salty food that you’d usually have with beer is brilliant with bubbles.
- Acidic foods, like vinegar and citrus, should be treated very differently from fatty foods. Instead of trying to oppose the feeling, treat these dishes more like you would sweets and make sure that the wine is at least as acidic, if not more acidic than what you’re eating, otherwise the wine will taste flat.
- Sugary food, like desserts, go well with sweet wines – makes sense, right? But make sure that the wine is sweeter than the dessert to avoid a bitter taste.
- When enjoying bitter greens or other bitter foods, stay away from tannins. Unlike pairing wines with sweet and acidic foods, tannins and bitter food will simply be too much and overpower the palate, ruining the meal.
- The tricky part of pairing sweet food with wine is when a dish has a sweet element, but isn’t necessarily is a dessert. A fruity sauce is best paired with a high alcohol wine content because these wines often taste sweet without having high amounts of sugars and won’t get bitter.
- Despite what movies and television would have you think, skip the red wine and chocolate pairing – it’s difficult to master and better on the screen than in your mouth.
Tried & True Food and Wine Pairings
We’ve given you the tools to pair your takeout expertly, but what about some perfect, easy pairings? Here are three to take your takeout to the next level but enjoying it with wine.
- Chinese – If you’re ordering Chinese consider a Marsanne or another white that doesn’t taste young and has rounder spice characteristics. Vanilla, hazelnut, honey – these will all work. If white’s not your thing you’ll want a full bodied red. Medium bodied reds also work and again you’re looking for spice. Reds with berry notes also work really well. Our favorite with Chinese is Nero D’Avola which can be found in most grocery stores.
- Pizza – Whether you are topping it with meats, veggies or six different kinds of cheese, pizza is acidic from the tomatoes and fatty from the cheese. Acid matches with acid and acid goes well with fat so you want an acidic wine. Go with an acidic red, possibly an Italian, but make sure the tannins are in check – tannins and tomatoes don’t mix.
- Gourmet Lamb Burger – Lamb burgers are a popular choice these days and boy are they delicious. But if you’re ordering one from you local burger joint, avoid the desire to grab a beer and instead get a wine with chutzpah. You want tannins, and earth. Try a Sangiovese!
Beer is good, don’t get us wrong, but the next time you’ve got the urge to order in, try some wine. Figure out what cuisine and dish you’re in the mood for, think about how it tastes and feels and then use our tips (or pre-determined matches) to pair it perfectly. Leave us a comment with YOUR favorite wine and takeout pairing, one you’d like to try, or what you thought of one of our matches.