Pairing wine with healthy foods

July 23rd, 2013

Written for America’s Wine Trail by:Lisa Wootton

If you’re a health-conscious wine lover, you may find combining both of these things a challenge; especially when eating out or planning a vacation to wine country. When you’re looking to lose weight, or just trying to improve your diet, certain things tend to be off limits. But while your choices in the supermarket or from a restaurant menu are likely to be affected, this doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the benefits of pairing your healthy dishes with a complementary wine.

Restrictive diets

As with pairing any foods with wine, it is important to think about what the dish contains and the primary flavors that will dominate the palate. The elements typically stripped from a restrictive diet are going to have a big impact on flavor, which will influence the type of wine selected. For example, salt and fat have different effects on wine: salt can soften the harder elements of wine and increase the perception of body, while fatty dishes are most effectively paired with wines high in acidity. Healthier options will replace heavy sauces, red meat and salted potatoes with white meat, fish and vegetable-based dishes. As a result, flavors will generally be lighter. For example, with a plain green salad and chicken, a good choice would be a Pinot Grigio, which is light enough not to overpower the subtle flavors of the food.

[Image of white wine – white wine can be great with healthy dishes]

In general, when selecting your wine, consider the accompaniments, such as an acidic salad dressing, which will need a high acid wine. A light white Sauvignon Blanc or Riesling will go great with a vinaigrette dressing or tomato salad, as the acidity will bring out the fruitiness of the wine. Think also about how the dish is cooked. A light-bodied white, such as a Sauvignon Blanc, would be great with a raw, boiled or steamed dish; while roasted dishes may be better paired with a light red, such as a Beaujolais. Also bear in mind that if you add extra spices or chili to your dish, you’ll need a wine that has low alcohol and robust fruitiness so it’s not lost in a strongly flavored dish. If you’ve traded your red meat for fish, rest assured you don’t have to forgo your favorite red wine! Salmon works great with a Pinot Noir, while a meaty fish, such as red ahi tuna, can be paired with a medium-bodied Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon to great effect. If you prefer white, try an oaked Chardonnay.

Health benefits of wine

Rather than being a dieter’s enemy, wine is thought to offer a host of health benefits, from fighting disease to maintaining a healthy head of hair! Research has produced evidence that, in moderation and in conjunction with a healthy lifestyle, wine can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol, help prevent heart disease and contribute to the prevention of diseases, including type 2 diabetes and some cancers. The key to these benefits are the powerful antioxidants that wine contains. These combat harmful free radicals that break off from oxidizing cells and do damage around the body. If you’re worried about hair loss, alcohol is a traditional remedy as it dilates blood vessels and encourages blood flow. It is not recommended to substitute wine for other genuine and effective hair loss treatments, but it may provide some benefit in this area. There are mixed views on this, however, and wine consumption should not be increased for health reasons. If you want to reap the potential health benefits of wine, then stick to the reds as the levels of antioxidants are much higher. The general rule is that the darker the wine, the higher the antioxidant content.

[Image of red wine – red wine is a great source of antioxidants]

So how does all this affect food and wine pairing? Well, for a start, you could pair your red wine with a dish that’s also bursting with antioxidants for a real health boost. For example, kidney beans and tomatoes great sources of antioxidants. A bean-based dish, such as a casserole, would be great with a nice light red Beaujolais. While white wines are more suited to more delicate tomato-based dishes, a fruity red Chianti would be a nice choice if the meal is equally robust in flavor. Combinations such as these can maximize the health benefits of antioxidants while producing great complementary flavors.

Occasional treats

If you’ve made the effort to watch your diet throughout the week, you’ll deserve a treat come the weekend! Wine on its own can provide that touch of indulgence, but it can also enhance the occasional sweet treat. The rule with pairing wine and sweet foods is that the wine should have a higher (or least an equal) level of sweetness, which is an enemy of wine. It increases the levels of bitterness, alcohol burn and acidity, while decreasing body, sweetness and fruitiness. That wonderful fruity Merlot that tasted so great with your entrée will fall flat when you take a sip alongside your dessert.

If you’re indulging in something sugar-filled then select a suitably sweet wine and they will complement each other wonderfully. We’re in dessert wine territory here. Try a honey-flavored, full-bodied Sauternes with a cream-based dessert, or a red Muscat with a fruity dish. In the US, all the fortified wines, such as Sherry, are classed as dessert wines. While some of these are traditionally drunk after a meal in other parts of the world, the key is sweetness and flavor. If you’re looking for something a little more interesting, try an ice wine, which, as the name suggests, is made from grapes picked while they’re frozen. This concentrates the sweetness to produce a very distinctive taste. The most famous come from Germany and Canada, but domestic ice wines are produced in such areas as New York’s Finger Lakes and Washington State.

Dessert wines in general tend to provoke an extreme reaction. Tasted alone, a dessert wine can be a little overpowering for people lacking a sweet tooth, but they are just right for drinking alongside that sneaky slice of chocolate cake. If you do like your sweet foods, but want to watch your sugar intake, then keeping a bottle of dessert wine at home might even allow you to satisfy the occasional craving without reaching for the cookie jar! Moderation is the key, however; both to enjoying wine and maintaining a healthy diet.

Eating for health and enjoyment

A dull and restrictive diet increases the chances that you’ll give up and return to old habits, but by putting some thought into your choices and wine pairings you’ll be able to enjoy foods that do you good and enhance the experience with a wonderfully complementary wine. You may even uncover some exciting new combinations that deliver a great dining and drinking experience next time you eat out at your favorite restaurant or take a trip to visit this country’s great wineries.

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