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How to pair wine with tea

  • Like wine, tea is complex in aroma, textures, notes, and both contain tannins
  • So, they can be a perfect match if you find the right riesling for your Darjeeling brew

Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Interestingly enough, when tea folk describe tea, their vocabulary borrows heavily from wine-speak. The same ideas of aroma, mouthfeel and aftertaste percolate here.

Carine Baudry, a wine and tea expert who runs the Paris-based tea training centre La QuintEssence, has some recommendations on how tea can be introduced to a wine lover.

There are similarities aplenty, she insists. Like wine, tea flavours are influenced by plant, soil, weather and processing. Like wine, tea is complex, in aroma, textures and notes; both contain tannins—infamous for the bitterness they produce in over-steeped tea—that enhance and extend aroma.

As a wine drinker, you will find a tea tasting familiar. Examine the dry leaf for its appearance and aroma before making the infusion. Once the tea liquor is ready, take in the aroma before you slurp it. Slurping draws in oxygen with the tea, said to both cool the tea and enhance its flavours. Roll the tea in your mouth to pick out the flavours. Like wine, tea’s flavour wheel includes woody, fruity, spicy, floral.... And because it has no alcohol, your tea tasting can go on much, much longer!

“Wine lovers could start with Darjeeling. The complexity of the Darjeeling tea will resonate with them," says Baudry. If you can access Chinese tea, she recommends Dianhong, a black tea from Yunnan with golden buds. Its aroma of leather, honey and wax wood, she says, is close to an old Bordeaux.

But it needn’t end with making an acquaintance. This season, if your lunch or dinner table has a selection of wines, you could consider pairing them with teas. The perfect pairing of tea and wine, advises Baudry, is when the tea is not too hot (around 50 degrees Celsius), to avoid a big contrast in temperatures. You take a few sips of tea followed by the wine, and tea again. Alternating the two allows you to create a harmonious experience of two seemingly disparate drinks.

Like Riesling? Pair it with a Darjeeling or Nepal white tea. The texture of the white tea and its floral/fruity, even almond notes work well with the wine. Sherry complements the spicy and woody notes of an oolong or a full-bodied Assam black.

A Chardonnay will pair well with a Chinese green tea like Longjing, or a Nepal green tea with a floral, mineral bouquet.

Sauvignon Blanc will work wonderfully with a Darjeeling clonal white or a first flush black tea (floral bouquet and fruity and almond milk notes) or a wild white tea from Vietnam.

Baudry’s all-time favourite is a cognac with a Darjeeling muscatel, that summer special black tea with its fruity notes.

She talks about her first tea-wine pairing: “It was in Darjeeling 10 years ago. I tasted three kinds of cognac, aged two years, 15 years and 30 years with a first flush, second flush and the muscatel. The perfume, the aromas are very, very close: woody, honey, spicy, liquorice, cooked and dried fruits, vanilla...the cognac greatly enhanced the tea."

“If you love wine," she says, “you will probably love tea. Both let you feel sensations and emotions. And in both, you thank nature and man for bringing you an incredible product."

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

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