Over many centuries, people have used wine as an accompaniment to their food - not only for taste purposes, but also as a dietary sample that was cleaner than normal drinking water. In fact, during these times, the type of wine and food often didn't matter because the choice was so limited.
Fast forward and the relationship between food and wine has progressed significantly. Matching these two elements is a skill and an art form - something that is designed to add to the taste experience of the diner. For hospitality students keen to be the next generation of wine aficionados, it pays to understand the basics of matching food and wine and how this can impact the quality of service and customer satisfaction.
To learn more about the art of matching food and wine, we spoke to Kenvale College Academic and Food and Beverage Lecturer Sandra Clark who delved into this topic in more detail.
Understanding the right level of knowledge
To regular people, there is a general rule that white wine matches with white meat and red wine matches with red meat. However, Sandra believes that this is quite a simplistic way of looking at the topic and often the best results come when experimenting or trying different combinations. Of course, regardless of what you are matching, there is one key element to keep in mind.
"What you don't want to do is to choose a wine that completely overtakes the flavour of the food that you are going to eat - you simply won't taste the food. This works vice-versa as well, the food can easily overpower the wine and you can't experience the full flavour of the wine," she said.
"Either way, you have to able to taste the food and the wine and experience both their characteristics at the same time - not always the easiest process!"
This is certainly one of the reasons why it can take years to learn about matching, because wines, even from the same region and same grape variety, will vary across years of production. For hospitality students, this may appear daunting, but by exposing yourself to different wine varieties and regions, you can soon pick up the necessary skills to wow your customers. It's a process, but Sandra believes it is a rewarding one for those that enjoy the craft of matching food and wine.
How much do I need to know about food and wine?
Sandra says that this really depends on where you are in the hierarchy of the restaurant. If you start off as a runner, nobody would expect you to have any wine knowledge at all. Further up, if you become a waiter or waitress and are taking food orders, you need to have enough basic insight to recommend different options to match the customer's choice.
"In a lot of large restaurants, there will be a separate position called a sommelier or wine waiter. These individuals are specially employed because of their wine knowledge," she said.
Overall, Sandra notes that there is an expectation on hospitality employees to correctly match food and wine. In fact, the earlier that they start the easier it is to develop that skill set. This is because the general public are attending wine appreciation courses and wine and food matching events more often - advancing their own knowledge. As a professional, the key is starting ahead of the game and understanding the important concepts.
"It is a learning curve. You start with the basics and build on that knowledge and increase it and increase it until you move into the wine industry if you decide that is where you want to go," Sandra explained.
Matching food and wine - the Kenvale approach
Diploma in Hospitality and Advanced Diploma of Hospitality students study three food and beverage subjects. In the third course, one component, lasting about six weeks, is when students learn about wines. As part of this subject, lecturers go through the different types of wines including red, white, champagne, dessert and fortified wines.
During this time, there is a field trip to the Hunter Valley where students visit various wineries and observe the winemaking process. There is also the chance to taste wines at several vineyards - hearing the winemaker talk about them and how the wine can be appropriately matched to particular dishes and foods.
In class, matching food and wine is taught from a theoretical point of view.
"In class, matching food and wine is taught from a theoretical point of view. Of course, using this knowledge, we do various tastings where the lecturer will suggest different foods for the students to bring in - which will and won't work," Sandra said.
Kenvale College event management students organise a WineFest Event where the Food and Beverage students, as part of their assessment, get wine sponsored from a winery and then choose dishes created by the commercial cookery students in their menu planning subject that will match well. During the evening, students have to promote that wine - highlighting its strengths, balance, key geographical information and why it matches well.
To give you an idea of what matching food and wine is all about, here are a couple of tips from Sandra.
- Generally, different types of wine work well if they are sweeter than the food itself. This is one of reasons why Port wine is often paired with dessert.
- High acidic wines will match well with less acidic food. For example, extra brut Champagne with a vinaigrette salad.
- Fruitier wines such as sauvignon blanc and Riesling complement rich spicy foods.
- Focus on showcasing the wine and its characteristics. For example, a high tannin red wine matched with the right dish will taste like sweet cherries - allowing the real flavours of the wine to emerge.
If you would like to learn more about matching wine and food or starting a hospitality course at Kenvale College, get in touch with our friendly team today.