General Rules of the Harmony of Wines and Dishes

Wines, Dishes, Colours and Flavours

The perception and assessment of flavours, bouquets and aromas is governed by the combined effects of complex physical, physiological, psychological, emotional, symbolic and cultural factors. Age, sex, health, the effect of the environment (season, temperature, light conditions, noise, humidity, other smells, colours), the atmosphere and decoration of the environment, general conditions, mood, individual responsiveness to flavours, the psychological effects of colours, the behaviour of people, the emotional influence of symbolic values all play an important role. All these factors must be considered in creating the proper harmony of flavours of wines and foods. This is how we can apply the general rules that

Creating the harmony of flavours between wines and dishes is a pleasant task. It is a game with flavours, memories and experiences. Wines appear to have richer flavours if consumed during meals. The pleasant flavours of a perfectly prepared dish can be totally ruined by a bad choice of wine. Let us imagine, for instance, that we are eating carefully steamed, fresh zander, and drinking a red wine of the Cabernet Sauvignon variety, matured in new oak casks, with high tannin content. The wine will completely ruin the tender, fine and fresh flavours of the fish. Essentially, wine is the final element in achieving gastronomic perfection. The talent of master chefs or the person "responsible" for family meals provides the first part of the gastronomic perfection, which is complemented and crowned by the harmonising capacity of the selected wine.

The wine can enhance the perfection of perfectly prepared dishes.

Basic principles of flavour combination

There are two fundamentally flavour-related rules of achieving the harmony of wines and foods:

To achieve the harmony of similar flavours, sour dishes should be combined with more acidic wines, while more sweet dishes with wines with higher sugar content. To supplement contrasting tastes, contrasting flavours should be juxtaposed - sweet-salty, sweet-sour, sweet-bitter - in such a manner as to achieve a new, complex, harmonious flavour.

Combination of Similar Flavours

The similarity of flavours of wines and foods can be exploited to achieve a more perfect harmony.

- Sour dishes - acidic wines
If we eat foods in which the effect of sour flavours is pronounced (sauerkraut, sweet and sour dishes), our sensitivity toward the sourness increases, thus we will find harsh and high acidity wines more soft, round, less acidic.

- Sweet dishes - sweet tvines
If we eat sweet dishes, our sensitivity to sweetness increases, thus we will find wines with a high sugar content less sweet.

- Dishes with paprika

Dry white or red wrines with high extract content Our dishes prepared with paprika have a characteristic, pleasant, bitter taste related to the flavour of the paprika. Paprika dishes increase our sensitivity toward bitterness. The acids of a dry, high extract, white wine or a dry, spicy, red wine appear to taste bitter, thus they go well with dishes prepared with paprika (the Kadarka variety is especially well suited to such dishes).

Horizontal and vertital matching

In matching wines and dishes, there is a theoretical distinction between two methods:
- horizontal and
- vertital matching.

In horizontal matching, we are looking for the right wine for a given dish (goose liver and Tokaji Aszú). In vertital matching, however, we talk about a series of dishes: thus, we have to select the appropriate wines for the courses in the series of dishes by taking into account the factors that determine the aromas and flavours of the wines and dishes that follow one another, in a manner so that the wines satisfy certain traditional matching rules:
- white wine (usually) precedes red wine,
- dry wine precedes semi-sweet and sweet wine,
- light wine precedes more full-bodied wine,
- younger wine precedes the wine of older vintage,
- the wine with a simpler taste precedes wine with a more complex flawour.

Of course, these rules may not necessarily apply to all occasions, and there are a lot of exceptions.

Often it is the exceptions and the daring vertical matchings that create the most interesting and most memorable gastronomic memories. For instance, we might choose an aromatic red wine of the light Kadarka type for the first course of the meal (Pick cold cuts), and continue with a white wine with farm acids, rich in aromas (Badacsonyi Olaszrizling and pheasant paté with estragon).

If the first dish is goose or duck liver paté, we may easily start the series of dishes with a three-'puttonyos' Tokaji Aszú, making sure that the next dish should neutralise the flavour of Tokaji Aszú with a sour flavour (sour boar piglet soup and a fresh Furmint with lively acids). The last dish in the meal (dessert) should, however, be selected so that it creates a harmony with a Tokaji Aszú of a higher number of 'puttony' (fiveor six-'puttony' Tokaji Aszú). The excellent experience granted by the flavour of the starting Aszú has to be exceeded with a Tokaji Aszú of exceptional vintage and higher quality.

Combination of Conflicting Flavours

The sweet flavour is best suited for harmonious combinaton with the other basic flavours.

- Sweet-sour combination
One speciality of the Chinese cuisines (Cantonese, Peking, Shanghai) is the sweet-sour flavour combination. The Magyar cuisine in the middle ages also favoured sweet and sour tastes. These dishes are best paired with sweet, semi-sweet or markedly acidic wines.

- Sweet-salty combnration
The cuisines of the Japanese, Scandinavian and Nordic peoples have a predilection for sweet-salty combinations. Salty dishes combine well with sweet or semi-sweet wines.

- Sweet-bitter combination
The harshness of the bitter flavour is difficult to harmonise. Excessive bitterness is dominant, destroying the pleasant taste of wines. Only slightly bitter dishes can be harmonised with sweet wines of marked acidity (Tokay Aszú with chocolate gateau).
- Salty-bitter combination
The salty taste underlines and unpleasantly accentuates sour flavours, and makes acidic wines repulsively harsh. Therefore we should not choose too acidic wines for salty dishes because they will create an unpleasant metallic flavour.

- Bitter-sour combiration
Excessive bitterness or sourness is displeasing, and we do not generally eat such dishes. The effect of acidic wines with bitter dishes is especially unpleasant.

Difficult and Dangerous Combinations

Certain dishes, sauces and ingredients are very difficult to harmonise with wines. This does not mean that we should not drink wine with such dishes, but that we should select more ordinary wines. Such types of food difficult to combine with wines include the following:

Determimation of Wine Type

The wine types proposed for the dishes included in this book were specified on the basis of the following aroma, flavour and sensory characteristics:

- Sweet, semi-sweet: unfermented sugar makes wine more or less sweet.
- Dry: there is no remaining sugar, the wine's flavour is pleasantly acidic and tart.
- Velvety: this is a feature of harmonic wines with a fine tannic acid content.
- Elegant: a wine with noble aroma, harmony and fine acids.
- Harsh: the typical taste of tannic acid, elegant harshness is a desirable feature of wines seasoned in new oak barrels.
- Fresh: this is a feature of young wines with a more lively acid content.
- Firm: full-bodied, lively and definite acid content describes this kind of wine.
- Round: a harmonic wine with softer acids, the overall impression of which creates a round impact on the senses.
- Harmonic: the perfect harmony of the wine's components (acid, sugar, extract, alcohol, scent, aroma) that affect our senses.
- Long: the aromas of heavy, full-bodied wines rich in scent and can be savoured "reverberate" for a long time.
- Characteristic: a peculiar world of scents and savour.
- Hard: a wine with a high acid and extract content.
- Light: a pleasant wine with a lower alcohol content.
- Soft: a wine with a low acid content.
- Heavy: wine with a high alcohol content and rich in extract substances.
- Oily: a heavy, full-bodied wine with high glycerine content.
- Smooth: a wine containing fine acids and glycerine.
- Full-bodied: a wine with a high extract content.
- Heady: a harmonic wine with a high alcohol content.

The softness or hardness of the acid and extract in wines depend also on
- the nature of the soil and
- the character of the vine.

Softer wines usually grow on sandy and yellowish soils (Great Plains, southern Balaton region, Szekszárd).

The right soil for harder wines are chalky, clayey and volcanic soils: Tokaj-hegyalja, Balaton-felvidék, Somló, Eger, Mátraalja, Mór, Etyek, Sopron, Villány.

Leányka, Irsai Olivér, Rizling Szilváni, Oportó and Tramini are the vine types that make softer wines, while Furmint, Juhfark (Sheep's Tail), Olaszrizling (Italian Riesling), Chardonnay, Budai Zöld (BudaGreen), Kékfrankos, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc determine harder wines.

The ideal temperature for wine

One of the essential conditions for the successful interaction of food and wine is to consume wine at the appropriate temperature. The ideal temperature for consumption of the various wine types are as follows:
- champagne 6-8 °C
- dry white wine 8-10 °C
- rose 8-10 °C
- semi-sweet white wine 10-12 °C
- Tokaji Aszú 10-12 °C
- young red wine 12-14 °C
- more mature red wine 14-16 °C

Wines are often served too warm in restaurants. This is especially true for red wines, which are usually presented at so-called `room temperature'. The habit of serving red wine at room temperature began in the 19th century, adopting one of the important rules of wine-tasting, but room temperatere was different at that time. During the 19th century, room temperatere during the winter was generally about 16-18 °C. This temperature is indeed ideal for drinking more mature red wines. Today, the temperatere in restaurants and homes is usually around 23-25 °C. Thus, the wine takes on such a high ' room temperatere'. Red wines lose their character at 23-25 °C. At this temperatere, the aromas disappear, and only tannic acid and the alcohol content is felt. It is just as bad to cool down wine too much in the refrigerator. The wine remains `locked', and its scents remain unnoticed.
(Róbert Gyula Cey-Bert: Harmony in Hungarian food and wine Paginarium - 2001)