Pairing the right wine with a food dish at a restaurant can be a harrowing experience without the help of a knowledgeable wine steward who knows not only the wines they offer, but is familiar with the dishes the chef prepares. All too often, though, in restaurants across the country, the wine steward is becoming a thing of the past. The knowledge of the complexities of wine and how the chemistry can affect the flavors of the food served needs to be passed on to the wait staff if a wine steward is not present.
Wine is a complex chemistry of acids, phenolics, proteins and sugars and many factors that influence the flavor and aroma of wine. With so many wine varieties and restaurants offering more diverse menu choices, the difficulty of pairing the right wine increases exponentially. It takes someone with a knowledge base of wine chemistry, an understanding of the wine making process and familiarity with the various wine vendors combined with a culinary appreciation of the menu and ingredients to be able to select the absolute best wine pairing. This is no easy task and one that restaurants would do well to incorporate into their training.
Even if the waiter or waitress is not a wine connoisseur themselves, a basic knowledge of these will go a long way with a customer and potentially keep a bad combination from ruining a perfectly cooked meal. For example, a Pinot Noir doesn’t play well with acidic foods and a Chardonnay should be kept away from spicier dishes, but not all dishes are so obvious with their flavors based on their description. Food trends come and go and what sizzles on the menu today may fizzle tomorrow. Knowing that the it’s not just the flavors one needs to watch, the sometimes not-so-subtle aromas can come into play. Since approximately 75% of taste is attributed to your sense of smell, even an unappealing sensory combination can have a huge effect on the enjoyment of a meal.
The rise in attendance at culinary schools coupled with an unprecedented interest in cooking and fine dining should get the attention of restaurants nationwide. The food served is more than just sustenance. It is meant to be an experience to be shared with friends and family. The right selection of wine can be every bit as important.