Easter is upon us again. It is a time of year that is associated with rebirth and the coming of spring, not to mention one of the holiest days in the Christian calendar. Like any holiday, families that celebrate will gather to partake in traditions, and some of these traditions will doubtless centre around special foods to be enjoyed. An Easter favourite in many parts of the world is hardboiled eggs. Have you ever wondered how to pair wine with a food as innocuous as an egg?
The goal of pairing wine with food is for the food to enhance the enjoyment of the wine. When you chew a bit of food and then sip a bit of wine, the components in both will interact with each other on your palate. Food tends to have a greater impact on the perception of wine than the other way around. The flavours of food, whether they be salty, sweet, or savoury, will interact with the structural components that makeup a wine in a different ways.
Some foods will increase the perception of sweetness or fruitiness in a wine, while other foods will decrease their perception. While there are no hard rules when it comes to pairing wine with food, and there must be some allowance for personal preferences, there are certainly some guiding principles that can be followed.
Umami – the Fifth Taste
When I was studying for my sommelier certification I was taught that eggs are among the most challenging foods to pair with wine successfully. The reason for this is that they possess the little known “fifth taste” which is difficult to pair with a wine in a pleasing way. Most people are familiar with the four common tastes that make up a food’s flavour: salty, sweet, sour, and bitter. The fifth taste is something called “umami,” and while it is distinct from other tastes it can be difficult to isolate. Umami is best described as a savoury “deliciousness.” Other things we eat that possess umami include asparagus, mushrooms, and Monosodium Glutamate (MSG). Think about that savoury flavour that makes you smile and say, “mmmm.” That’s umami.
The reason that umami-laden foods are difficult to pair with wine is that umami does a great job of throwing a wine out of balance when the two interact on your palate. Umami increases a person’s perception of bitterness, astringency, acidity, and alcohol burn, while decreasing a person’s perception to body, sweetness, and fruitiness. To keep the wine in balance on your palate, it is necessary to choose a wine that is lower in elements to which perception will be increased, and higher in elements to which perception will be decreased.
Eggs and Wine
When pairing with eggs, red wines and barrel-aged white wines are out. These wines exhibit a bitter taste caused by tannins, which are a substance found in all red wines from the grape juice’s interaction with grape skins, and in barrel-aged white wines from tannins that leach from the barrel itself into the wine. Umami will increase the drinker’s perception to bitterness, so these wines will not prove to be pleasing choices with eggs.
Two wines that fit the bill would be unoaked Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. I submit the following rationale: these wines are not bitter; they are medium in acid; they are medium in their alcohol level; they are medium or full in body; and they are very fruity. If there is a little residual sugar in the wine, all the better. Note that these wines are lower in elements to which perception will be increased, and higher in elements which perception will be decreased. To further enhance the pairing, add a bit of salt to the eggs. Salt will serve to “soften” the wine by decreasing your perception to the wine’s astringency. Pairing wine with food is all about maintaining its balance.
Michael’s recommendations: Pillitteri Estates Winery’s 2016 Debbie Travis Pinot Grigio ($15.95) and Marynissen Estates’ 2016 Unoaked Chardonnay ($15.95).
This Easter, wow your family by pairing your coloured, hardboiled eggs with a perfectly selected VQA wine from Niagara! To learn more about pairing wine with food, join a professional and educational tour of Niagara’s wine country with Niagara Vintage Wine Tours. Our Half Day Niagara Wine and Cheese Tour as well as our EPIC Food, Beer, and Wine Tour both feature a food and wine pairing seminar where you will learn which wines taste great with which foods, and you’ll taste the proof! Call our guest services agents today at 1-866-628-5428. Happy Easter!
Michael Twyman – Sommelier and Niagara Wine Country Guide for Niagara Vintage Wine Tours and Bootleggers