Posted On 24 April 2020

When we talk about wine and food pairings, fast food dishes are usually not mentioned enough. We talk about things like mushroom risotto with white wine, rib eye steak with red wines or seafood salads with rose wines. Today we are going to talk about Burgers, American Barbecue (BBQ), fried chicken, pizza and of course Cyprus favourite, souvlaki.

The same food and wine pairing rules apply for anything we eat. As mentioned in our previous article for wine body, matching the body of our wine and food is a good start. Though, there are more important things that will determine what wine we should choose. First, we have the flavour components of food: sweetness, acidity, salt, umami, bitterness and chilli heat. Secondly, the cooking method and thirdly, what accompanies a dish (sauce, toppings). It’s one thing to eat a plain burger and another to eat it with caramelised onions and home-made barbecue sauce.

Burgers.

There is a big variety of burgers out there, some made from beef and others a combination of beef and pork meat. What makes burgers so attractive and nice is the amount of fat they have. A burger patty with no fat will fall apart during cooking and will most certainly feel dry. All burgers are cooked with salt so this will play a big role in choosing our wine.

Classic burger components: Red meat, fat, salt, grill cooking.

Since we are working with red meat, a lot of fat and salt, it’s better to choose a red wine with tannins and good acidity. The more fat or thick our meat patty is the more tannins we will need. Eating a lot of fat creates an unpleasant coating around our mouth. Wine tannins have the ability to bind with fat (and proteins) and help us “clean” our mouth for the next bite. If we are having a burger with a thin patty (famous fast food chain restaurant) it will usually be dry and less fatty, here we need a low tannin red or a Cypriot rose. Salt is a friend of red wine; it helps decrease bitterness from tannins and increases the perception of body. Grilling, the final component, means we need a wine aged in oak barrels to match the smokiness. We recommend going with a younger red (Shiraz, Mataro) rather than your 20-year-old bucket list wine.

Toppings and sauces: These are game changers since they add a sweet, acid and/or bitter component to our burger. If you like adding barbeque sauce (sweet) on your burger then consider a red wine low in alcohol and tannins that is very fruity. Sweetness in food will increase bitterness, the burning effect of alcohol and will reduce your wine’s fruity flavours. Pickles give a nice kick to our burger and refresh our palate but they tend to be a bit bitter and sour. Bitterness in food will increase bitterness in wine so keep that in mind. Acidity on the other hand means our wine needs to have higher acidity. If you are a mustard person then that will add even more bitterness and heat thus making your high alcohol, tannic red wine undrinkable.

Take your time and consider everything and then just like a puzzle add all the pieces together to find your wine. Don’t be afraid, the worst-case scenario is you drinking that wine later while watching Netflix.

American Barbecue (BBQ)

American BBQ is something relatively new in Cyprus but has become a favourite amongst many. We are talking about pull pork, beef brisket, beef ribs and anything else smoked for several hours.

American BBQ components: Red meat, fat, protein, salt, smoke, spices and herbs.

Just like burgers we should consider red wines since we share similar components with them. We will focus more on smoke, spices and herbs. When something is smoked for 10+ hours it develops a very pronounced smoke flavour which calls for wines aged in oak barrels. What makes things more interesting and complex is the dry rub used to flavour the meat. Typical dry rub ingredients are cumin, cayenne pepper, black pepper, paprika, garlic powder, onion powder, coriander and brown sugar. All these add layers of complexity to our dish and thus require an equally complex wine. Complexity in wine is enhanced with age. Young red wines have primary (fruit flavours) and secondary (oak, lees, smoke) flavours but lag tertiary flavours such as nutmeg, mushroom, leather, nuts, forest floor and gammon. These are important to consider when pairing smoked meats. Now is the time to open that old red you’ve been saving for so long.

Toppings and sauces: The number one sauce used is sweet BBQ sauce so the same rules as with burgers apply. Coleslaw is either used as a side item or a topping on dishes like pulled pork. For BBQ dishes coleslaw is lighter (less mayonnaise) and more sour than usual (vinegar). This side dish is very popular because the acidity helps you with fat. Both wine and coleslaw are trying to do the same thing so one more reason for your wine to have high acidity. Don’t forget that side dishes aren’t the star of the show so remain focused on the meat.

Fried chicken.

Fried chicken is something that everyone loves and goes for after a late night out or while watching their favourite team on TV. Beer is what most people choose since it’s such a great pairing option. But trust me finding the right wine with fried chicken will change your world.

Fried chicken components: White meat, salt, oil, fat.

Here, we should consider dry, high acid whites, pale roses and sparkling wines. These wines compliment white meat and can cut through oil and fat leaving our mouth refreshed and ready for another bite. Salt, as mentioned before, reduces acidity so that’s why choosing a high acid wine is important. Red wines are not recommended since we are working with chicken. It’s this beautiful contrast of fat and acidity that makes this so great.

Pizza:

This is probably the king of fast food when it comes to wine pairing options. There are unlimited number of ingredients you can use on a pizza which means you can adjust based on your wine. Here, we will be talking about some classic pizzas and how their main ingredients contribute.

Basic pizza components: dough, tomato sauce and cheese.

Margarita pizza

Margarita pizza is simple but delicious. Tomato is the dominant flavour which gives us a lot of acidity and an umami flavour. Cheese gives us more body, texture and fat while the dough an earthy note. Based on this our wines need to be fruity rose or reds (low tannin), medium in body, with good acidity. The umami flavour from cooked tomato requests a wine low in alcohol and very fruity. Umami isn’t much of a wine friend since it increases bitterness (tannic reds) and the burning effect of high alcohol. In its presence wines lose their fruitiness, body and sweetness.

Pepperoni Pizza:

The pepperoni will dominate here with its spicy, fatty flavour. Because of this it’s better to choose red wines with medium levels of tannin and alcohol. Go for young wines from varieties like Shiraz and Grenache to match the spicy flavours. We need a bit more tannin than before in order to handle the fat of pepperoni but not too much for spiciness to overwhelm us with bitterness.

Vegetarian Pizza:

Consider fruity, medium acidity rose or white wines. A vegetarian pizza is usually a combination of one or many of the following: green pepper, onion, spinach, rocket, eggplant, mushroom and zucchini. In this case, the vegetables will contribute mostly to the flavour thus making white wine a good candidate. Our wines should preferably be medium body since we are still eating a lot of dough and cheese.

Meat lovers:

We are talking about the all-in meat pizza with bacon, lountza, sausage, ham, pepperoni and the occasional mushroom. So, the number one thing to consider here is fat and proteins. This means we need a wine capable of handling this. This can be a Cypriot Shiraz or Cabernet Sauvignon which have a lot of tannins and body but have plenty of fruity flavours to go around.

Souvlaki:

If you live in Cyprus or if you have visited Cyprus, you will definitely know what Cyprus’ favourite fast food dish is. Souvlaki is something Cypriots eat on their birthdays, graduation party, movie night, Sunday family gathering, Easter, Christmas and pretty much any day of the year except Green Monday.

Souvlaki components: Pork meat, fat, salad, salt, lemon.

For souvlaki we use the pork neck cut which has a good amount of fat that keeps our small pieces of meat soft and juicy. Pork meat is light compared to beef and lamb so pairing it with a white wine isn’t a problem. You just need that white wine to have a good amount of body. It is very important in a souvlaki to have a white, rose or red wine with a good amount of acidity. We don’t just want to cut through fat but also to rival the lemon we always put on. Acidity in food decreases acidity in wine but thankfully enhances the aromas and flavours. The salad used in most cases is a combination of cucumber, tomato, parsley and onion. Tomato will once again contribute to acidity, onion will add a bit of heat to our dish, cucumber will refresh us and parsley will give a herbal note. For a white go for a Cypriot Chardonnay that has body and a lot of flavour intensity. If you prefer rose then choose something with good structure. For reds go for simple, unoaked, blended wines from Cyprus that do not have a lot of tannins. After all, we’re eating pork so we don’t really need powerful tannic wines.

As with all food pairing articles all the advice above is on how to avoid bad pairings or to help you understand how each element can influence our choices. Don’t worry too much when it comes to pairings, some trials and errors might be fun and they can help you understand your personal taste better. So, if you think the best wine for souvlaki is Xinisteri then go for it, I trust you.

by Fikardos Fikardos, assistant winemaker.

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