by Elona Hesseling When it comes to matching food with wine, there are no rules – only tried and tested observations and generalisations. This was the bottom-line at a tasting presented by Nancy Gilchrist MW and Simon Back, putting the Backsberg BlackLabel Range to the tasting-test with various types of food and flavours.

Backsberg marketing manager, Simon Back.

Backsberg marketing manager, Simon Back.

“The aim of matching food and wine is to achieve balance in the combined structural characteristics. Once these are balanced, you need to look at the interaction of flavours,” explains Nancy. Tasting the John Martin 2012 Sauvignon Blanc with a piece of apple, it was noticeable that the acidity of food influences the perceived acidity and sweetness in wine. High acidity food, like apples, results in a higher perceived physiological ripeness of wine – in other words, it bumps up the sugar, making the wine taste less ‘acidic’. This may be perfect when trying to take the edge off a young Sauvignon, but when serving acidic fruit in a dessert paired with muscadel, you end up with an out-of-balance, overly sweet wine. Salt plays a similar role – when adding it to food high in acidity, it reduces the perceived acidity in both the food and the wine. This is the reason why caviar is often served with Champagne. But acidity isn’t always appropriate and can result in a jaw-clenching experience when it increases the perceived tannin in red wine. The best way to counter-act this is with protein – returning the wine to its former glory, while making it even smoother and fruitier. This theory was proven after first tasting the Beyond Borders Pinot Noir 2010 with a piece of apple, followed by a piece of brie cheese.

Alicia Rechner (winemaker) and Danwin James (tasting room manager and sommelier).

Backsberg’s Alicia Rechner (winemaker) and Danwin James (tasting room manager and sommelier).

Looking at specific flavours and their interactions with wine, it is interesting to note that Pinot Noir is quite a good match to many difficult foods, from limes, lemongrass, ginger, coriander and coconut, to soy sauce, spring onions, garlic, chives and thyme. It seems to be a good idea to always have a bottle or two on hand! Spicy, Asian-fusion style foods are growing in popularity, but many believe that water or beer is a better accompaniment than wine. Spicy and peppery foods increase the perception of alcohol, but also the perception of fruity flavours – try some lower-alcohol German Riesling with these flavoursome dishes. When looking at tasting notes and back labels of wine, there is a boring propensity to merely state that it goes well with beef or chicken; instead, Nancy recommends we rather focus on the interaction of flavours, mentioning that the wine will suit coriander, mint or star aniseed. As with most things to do with wine, pairing it with food is a subjective exercise and an equation that sometimes requires more than one answer.  A lunch of roast beef with mint sauce and creamy potato bake was, for me, best enjoyed with a glass each of the 1979 Cabernet Sauvignon and 2009 Family Reserve White, a unique and delicious blend of Chardonnay, Roussanne and Viognier.

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