Wine terms: Food friendly

The words "food friendly" crop up on the blog all the time (as well as in many other examples of wine writing. What's most interesting about the term is that it's not really official winespeak — doesn't show up on a lot of wine tasting terminology lists, for example. But it's still an important way to describe wine.

That's because it's not a winespeak term. You won't see it, for example, on many reviews that include scores, which prefer to stick to their tried and true adjectives like cigar box and leathery. For them, food friendly isn't an accurate description of what the wine tastes like. It's an assessment of the quality of the wine, and they have scores for that.

Which is just fine with me. Food friendly wines complement what you're eating, and that is an important assessment to make. If the wine is going to overpower the food — think of an inky, 16 1/2 percent alcohol shiraz — you need to know it before you serve it with a piece of beef that cost an entire week's salary. In this, a food friendly wine is not the star of the meal, but the part that helps to bring out the flavor of the food.

Know, too, that a food friendly wine is versatile, and will pair with a variety of dishes. Think of pinot noir, which goes with salmon, lamb and chicken. The same holds true for red wines from France's Cote du Rhone, which is almost as versatile as pinot noir, or many sauvignon blancs.

So, yes, food friendly wines tend to have softer tannins and more fruit — but that doesn't mean that food friendly wines are always lighter. It's more about balance. Cabernet sauvignon, which is usually tannic and acidic, can be food friendly if those characteristics are in balance with the fruit. Chardonnay can be incredibly food friendly, but not if it's over-oaked or too high in alcohol. High alcohol, in fact, makes a wine food unfriendly, because a high alcohol wine needs food to soften its characteristics.

3 thoughts on “Wine terms: Food friendly

  • By Arthur - Reply

    Perhaps we should allow ourselves to be “splitters” and not “lumpers”. ‘Food friendly’ is not a singular thing and there is considerable limitation to the versatility one would expect out of a “food friendly” wine.
    The components of one wine interact very differently with two separate dishes.
    In the end, the type of interaction achieved/desired should be considered.
    For my purposes, I look for synergy. A broad loose rule (like: “softer tannins and more fruit) rule is often very wrong. I have found that this limits the opportunity to experience a synergy of wine and food and results in picking the most mediocre and unobtrusive wines.

  • By Santino - Reply

    Arthur, I think there are some wines which are perfeclty balanced and thought specially for food pairing.
    The important thing is to pick the right variety cause you do not want to have fish with Cab Sauv, even if this is fruity style and with softer tannins than others.
    Next time you pick your food wine don’t look for any kind of softern tannins wine, just try to find the perfect balance between wine and food by picking the right grape for your selected dish. The wine shouldn’t overwhelm the dish but it shouldn’t be under it either.
    Reading the back labels usually helps a lot for this matter.

  • By Jodi Fritch - Reply

    Stumbled across article this morning and have reposted it to my FB and Twitter network. I always share with people that the more wine I drink and the more food I cook and eat, the more it is about balance. Once you take a moment to be aware of the ‘dance’ between food and wine, the more it changes your expectations.
    Jodi a/k/a tampawinewoman

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