Wine and food matching needn’t be difficult.

White with fish, red with steak, right? Or is there more to it? Bust out of your food and wine matching rut with our easy tips to extend your repertoire.

Quick Guide

Food & Wine Matching

Why is it important?

Simply put, different foods react differently with different wine varietals. Understanding which styles work – or don’t – with everyday dishes will enhance your enjoyment of both the food and the wine.

How do i do it?

Understanding the basic flavour characteristics of the wine is a start. Sauvignon Blancs are light and citrusy, working well with light and crisp salads for example, whilst a Shiraz displays earthy, tannin flavours which match perfectly with robust, earthy meals such as braised lamb shanks.

Tip

So often, when dining out, the wine order is taken before the meal order is placed. Try to avoid this pitfall so that you can match the wine with your selected dishes. Take your time – if you’d like to enjoy a drink before your meal and accompanying wine arrives, order an aperitif.

What is Food and Wine Matching?

Chances are, if you’re enjoying a wine with your meal you’ve chosen that wine for a particular reason. You might particularly like the varietal, perhaps it’s been recommended by the sommelier, or you’re just using up leftovers (apparently some people don’t always finish the bottle). And hopefully you’ve given the matching of the wine with your chosen meal some consideration.

It used to be a fairly safe, albeit conservative, bet that a white wine should be served with white meat or fish and red wine should be served with heartier red meat dishes. So where does that leave a salad? Or pasta? Or pudding?
 
There are so many varietals these days it’s worth taking some time to understand which wines best complement which food styles. Then, when you’re in a situation where a wide choice selection is available – at a restaurant for example or at the bottle shop choosing your wine to accompany Saturday night’s dinner party – you can consider which wines will enhance your dining experience or just as importantly, which wines might leave a bitter taste in your mouth.

Why should you bother?

It really is as simple as that. Some wines will complement the food being served, other wines will make either the food, or – perish the thought – the wine, taste unpleasant. Thinking about which varietals to serve with which course is just as important as matching it with the dish being served and will really enhance your dining experience.

General Guidelines

Here are a few basic guidelines on food and wine matching that, without providing specific varietal matching advice, gives you some basics on how to approach the happy marriage of good food with great wine.

  • Light food goes well with light wine. Hearty food goes well with complex, robust wines. It’s all about balance. Slow-cooked lamb shank is going to grossly overpower a glass of Champagne for example.
  • Spanish food goes well with Spanish wine. Italian food goes well with Italian wine. French food goes well with...you get the idea. If in any doubt you’re best to err on the side of caution with regional wine and food matchings.
  • If serving several wine varietals throughout the meal, it’s best to start with the lightest / driest and finish with the heaviest / sweetest.
  • Avoid the following matchings if possible;
     - Chocolate and red wine are, contrary to popular belief, uncomfortable bedfellows. The bitter tannins in the red expose the bitterness of the chocolate – best to match chocolate with a sweet tokay or sherry such as pedro ximenez.
     - Similarly, avoid matching red wine with any sweet and sour dishes – a bit like combining citrus with dairy. Bleuch.
     - Really spicy food should, fairly obviously, never be served with high alcohol or delicate wines such as Champagne.
     - Overly rich, high fat foods (for example, lasagne) don’t match at all well with high acid wines (for example, Sauvignon Blanc). The acidity in the cheese, tomato sauce and wine will be altogether overwhelming.
 

Specific Wines Matched with specific foods: Ready Reckoner

  • Champagne: goes really well with anything salty. Even the driest brut Champagne has sweet undertones which are enhanced when matched with salty food such as smoked salmon, oysters or any other seafood. (Prosecco works equally well with these matchings.)
  • Sauvignon Blanc: goes well with tart, vinegary or citrusy sauces and dressings such as a seafood ceviche, sea bass with lime and coriander or guacamole. It’s also a perfect partner to crisp, fresh salads.
  • Pinot Grigio: is a perfect accompaniment to delicate seafood dishes. A classic, modern prawn cocktail, seafood linguine or a grilled octopus salad for example.
  • Chardonnay: is ideal with fatty fish as well as rich, saucy dishes. Garlic prawns, poached eggs with asparagus and hollandaise, salmon steaks or even a rich chicken Dijon casserole are ideal partners.
  • Riesling: matchs well with sweet as well as spicy dishes including Asian and Indian curries. Try matching a semi-dry Riesling with salt and pepper squid, Bratwurst sausage with sauerkraut and apple sauce, tandoori chicken or a Thai green curry.
  • Moscato: just loves to be matched with fruity deserts, particularly when served lightly chilled. Any type of semifreddo, fruit sorbet, fruit tart – even cobbler or crumble work well with Moscato.
  • Rosé: works beautifully with cheesy dishes, from a humble croquet monsieur or cheesy hors d’oeuvres platter to fondues, soufflés, quiches and fancy salads (incorporating goat’s or blue vein cheese for example).
  • Pinot Noir: is best served with earthy, hearty dishes. A nutty mushroom risotto, truffle pasta, roast pork or rabbit pie – and even offal such as a sauteed kidneys –match the Pinot Noir’s savoury depths.
  • Cabernet Sauvignon: has an affinity with red meat, particularly bbq’d or flame grilled. The firm tannins of the cabernet grape refresh the palate and cut through the juicy meatiness of dishes such as sticky bbq’d pork ribs, a juicy steak, beef rib roast, grilled lamb cutlets and even meaty pizzas.
  • Shiraz: matches the robust flavours of heavily seasoned dishes with its own spicy notes. Try matching Shiraz with a hearty beef casserole, pappardelle beef ragout, lamb kebab, pulled pork and braised lamb shanks.

Now Break the Rules!

The best part of food matching is working out for yourself what you do and don’t like. There are some general watch outs – don’t drink wine with raw pineapple for example, or try and get a wine to compete with a really fiery chilli – but there are some other traditional approaches that you can overrule depending on your taste and comfort level.

  • Start with a sweet fizzy moscato during summer to replace a drier cava or prosecco.
  • Swap your red for a botrytis or even sherry to accompany the cheese course particularly if serving parmesan or blue vein.
  • And what about considering a beer or cider instead of wine? Not with the entire meal of course, but sometimes a good curry just works with a crisp, cold beer.

And always remember; whilst thoughtful food and wine matching will ideally bring out the best in both the food and the wine, neither is going to magically improve the other if they’re not good to start with.

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