Napa, Wine Pairing and the “Why” Behind It

As you go through life, there are tidbits of knowledge that you pick up without ever trying. Thanks to the influence of family, friends, and pretty much everything else that exists in the world, we remain sponges to random facts that sometimes have no affect on us. And then there are those moments when you learn something that changes the way you think. I experienced one of those moments just this past Friday will visiting the incredible and gorgeous Napa Valley, and I have to say I am a better person because of it. And today, I share it with you.

So let’s talk about WINE!

Wine is a beverage that is so often consumed with food. Though it can be (and has been countless times by yours truly) sipped on its own, there is a symbiotic relationship between wine and the meal with which we eat it. I’ve always heard that red wine pairs well with red meat and that white should be eaten with lighter proteins like chicken and fish, but I never understood why. Turns out, it’s all about the tannins.

Tannins are what lives in the skins of the grapes wine is made from that gives the final product its degree of bitterness. Red wines tend to have more contact with the skin during the wine-making process, increasing how bitter and dry the wine tastes. White wines, on the other hand, tend to be separated from their skins early on in the process, allowing the wine itself to mature into something a bit more sweet.

What does that mean for us wine drinkers?

Winery and operations manager Jeff Miller of Hendry Wines in Napa put it perfectly. Using coffee as a metaphor, he explained that those wine drinkers that prefer their coffee with milk and sugar are likely to go for low tannin wines (white wines) when drinking the wine without the accompaniment of food. Those that prefer their coffee black and enjoy its bitterness will have no problem consuming the higher concentration of tannins that exist in red wines. We add the fat and sweetness of cream and sugar to our coffee because of our tastebuds. And it is this very addition that explains why red wine tastes so great with a juicy steak.

Foods higher in fat help balance the high tannin count in red wine. And it is red wine that helps clean our palate between bites without tasting too bitter. Inversely, when we eat foods low in fat like lean fish or chicken, low-tannin white wines pair perfectly. The flavor and makeup of the wine works in tandem with the absence of fat in your meal’s protein.

In a way, it is what you eat with your wine that acts as the milk and sugar to your coffee. And it is a trip like the one I took to Napa that will help you truly appreciate the process of how the wine you drink moves from the vine to your glass.

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