pairing natural wine and food

The Art of Natural Wine Pairing

Posted by Holly Berrigan on

Why It's More Challenging Than Conventional Wine

When it comes to wine and food pairing, many enthusiasts turn to tried-and-true combinations that have been perfected over centuries. However, the rising popularity of natural wines introduces a delightful yet challenging twist to this age-old practice. Natural wines, celebrated for their minimal intervention and expressive character, require a different approach to pairing compared to their conventional counterparts. In this blog, we'll explore why pairing natural wine is more complex and how you can embrace the adventure it offers.

pairing wine with food

Understanding Natural Wine

Before diving into the pairing complexities, it's essential to understand what makes natural wine unique. Natural wine is produced with minimal intervention in the vineyard and winery. This means no added chemicals, native yeasts for fermentation, and little to no sulfites. The result is a wine that truly reflects its terroir and vintage, often with unexpected and vibrant flavors. This minimal intervention approach allows the natural characteristics of the grape and the land to shine through, making each bottle a unique expression of its origin.

The Challenge of Natural Wine Pairing

Variable Flavors and Aromas

Natural wines can exhibit a broad spectrum of flavors and aromas, even within the same varietal. This difference is due to the natural fermentation process, which can lead to unique and sometimes unpredictable taste profiles. Conventional wines, on the other hand, are often crafted for consistency, making them more predictable to pair. This difference in vintages from year to year in natural wines means that the wine and food pairing process can be both exciting and difficult.

Higher Acidity and Tannins

Many natural wines, especially those from cooler climates or made with certain grape varieties, have higher acidity and pronounced tannins. While these characteristics can be exciting, they can also pose challenges when pairing with food, as they might overpower delicate dishes or clash with certain flavors. High acid wines, such as a dry Riesling or an unoaked Chardonnay, can be perfect for cutting through rich, fatty dishes, while tannic wines are best balanced with protein-rich foods.

Unfiltered and Funky Notes

Natural wines are often unfiltered, resulting in a cloudy appearance and sometimes funky, earthy notes. These elements can add complexity to the wine but can also make it trickier to find complementary food pairings. Conventional wines, which are typically filtered and fined, have a cleaner profile that can be easier to match. The unfiltered nature of natural wines can contribute to a rustic, authentic feel but requires a more nuanced approach to pairing.

natural wine in kitchen for cooking with tomatos

Tips for Pairing Natural Wine

Embrace Local and Seasonal Foods

One of the best ways to pair natural wine is by focusing on local and seasonal ingredients. Natural wines often reflect the terroir of their origin, so pairing them with foods from the same region can enhance the dining experience. Seasonal produce also tends to have flavors that complement the freshness and vibrancy of natural wines. For example, pairing a natural wine with locally sourced goat cheese or seasonal vegetables can create a harmonious and regionally inspired meal.

Balance Acidity and Tannins

When dealing with natural wines with high acidity or tannins, aim for dishes that can balance these elements. Acidic wines pair well with fatty or rich foods, as the acidity cuts through the richness. Tannic wines are best with protein-rich dishes, which can soften the tannins and create a harmonious balance. For instance, a high-acid Pinot Grigio can be a perfect match for a creamy pasta dish, while a tannic red wine pairs excellently with a hearty steak.

Experiment with Texture and Flavors

Don’t be afraid to experiment with different textures and flavors. Natural wines often have a depth and complexity that can be highlighted by dishes with contrasting textures or complementary flavors. For instance, a funky, earthy natural wine might pair beautifully with a creamy, umami-rich dish like mushroom risotto. Exploring various textures, such as crispy, creamy, or crunchy, can lead to surprising and delightful pairings.

Consider the Unexpected

One of the joys of natural wine is its unpredictability. Embrace this by trying unconventional pairings and seeing what works best for your palate. Sometimes, the most unexpected combinations can be the most delightful. For example, a sparkling wine with spicy food or a sweet wine with a salty cheese can create a perfect pairing that surprises and delights your taste buds.

natural wine pairing with pasta

Natural Wine Pairings for Specific Foods

Wine and Cheese Pairings

Cheese pairing with natural wines can be particularly rewarding. A creamy goat cheese pairs wonderfully with a crisp, high-acid white wine like Pinot Gris. Blue cheese, with its bold and salty profile, can be an excellent match for a sweet wine, providing a perfect balance of flavors. For a more adventurous pairing, try a funky natural red wine with an aged, oak-aged cheddar for a unique and satisfying experience.

Wine Pairing with Salmon

The most common pairing question we get is "what wine pairs well with salmon?" Salmon, with its rich and flavorful meat, can be paired with a variety of natural wines. A bright, acidic white wine like an unoaked Chardonnay or a dry Riesling can cut through the richness of the salmon, making it a perfect match.

For those wondering what the best wine pairs with salmon, a Pinot Noir can also be an excellent choice, as its subtle tannins and red fruit flavors complement the fish's natural oils. A sparkling wine can add a festive touch to a salmon dish, making it an ideal choice for a celebratory meal.

Using a Wine Pairing Chart

A wine pairing chart can be a helpful tool when exploring natural wine pairings. These charts typically categorize wines by flavor profile and suggest complementary food pairings. For example, if you are looking to pair a natural red wine, the chart might suggest dishes like grilled meats, roasted vegetables, or hearty stews. Utilizing a wine pairing chart can simplify the process and give you confidence in your pairing choices. (We have one below to leverage.)

Conclusion

Pairing natural wine may be more challenging than conventional wine, but it also offers a rewarding and adventurous culinary experience. By understanding the unique characteristics of natural wines and experimenting with different pairings, you can discover new and exciting flavor combinations that highlight the beauty of these expressive wines. So, next time you open a bottle of natural wine, take the time to explore its nuances and enjoy the journey of finding the perfect pairing.

Natural wines invite us to break away from conventional pairing rules and embrace creativity and exploration. Whether you are pairing wine with salmon, cheese, or a spicy dish, the key is to enjoy the process and trust your palate. Cheers to discovering the perfect wine and food pairing with natural wines!

Holly Berrigan is the Founder of MYSA Natural Wine. She has a WSET Level 3 certification with Distinction, is a member and writer for the Porto Protocol and Slow Food USA, and is a student in Sustainable Agriculture at the University of Massachusetts Stockbridge.

 

Wine By Flavor Profile
Meat
Red Meat
Beef Beef
Lamb Lamb
Cured Meat
Salami Salami
Bacon Bacon
Pork   Pork
Poultry
Chicken Chicken
Duck Duck
Turkey Turkey
Mollusk
Oyster Oyster
Mussel Mussel
Fish
Tuna Tuna
Salmon Salmon
Crudo Crudo
Shellfish
Shrimp Shrimp
Crab Crab
Lobster Lobster
Preparation
Grilled or Barbecued   Grilled
Sautéed & Fried   Sauteed
Roasted   Roasted
Poached & Steamed   Steamed
Dairy
Soft Cheese and Cream   Soft Cheese
Hard Cheese   Hard Cheese
Veggies
Onion & Garlic   Garlic
Green Veggies   Cabbage
Root Veggies   Pumpkin
Tomatoes, Peppers, Eggplant   Tomatoe
Mushrooms   Mushroom
Nuts & Seeds   Almonds
Herb & Spices
Beans & Peas   Peas
Black Pepper   Pepper
Red Pepper   Chili Pepper
Hot & Spicy   Spicey
Herbs   Basil
Baking Spices   Baking Spice
Exotic and Aromatic Spices   Ginger
Starch
White Starches   Flour
Whole Wheat Grains   Grain
Sweet Starchy Veggies   Sweet Potato
Potato   Potato
Sweet
Fruit & Berries   Blueberries
Vanilla & Caramel   Cake
Chocolate & Coffee   Chocolate
Wine By Meal Type
Meals
Tacos   Taco
Pasta   Pasta
Sushi   Sushi
Stew   Stew
Risotto   Risotto
Sandwich   Sandwich
Steaks   Steak
Salad   Salad
Thai/Korean   Korean Food
Pizza   Pizza
Burger   Burger
Indian   Curry
Brunch   Pancakes

 

AN INTRODUCTION TO PAIRING NATURAL WINE AND FOOD

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