Wine with food

Much of the time when we enjoy a glass or two of wine, it is with a meal. How then, do we know which wines work with which foods? The first rule is that if you like it, then it works. What I hope to do is give you some ideas that make it work really well, but if you like Sauvignon Blanc with your steak, then hey – go for it.

The old adage of white wine with fish and red wine with meat is probably still a good starting point, though as usual, there are plenty of variations that work brilliantly. Take seared tuna or salmon – these can be superb with Pinot Noir, particularly if prepared with Asian spices.

The trick is to experiment – use some guidelines then have a go – and enjoy practicing!

The objective for wine and food matching is to try and ensure the two complement each other without one dominating. Here are some pointers to get you going…

The key things in a good match are:

  • Flavour
  • Weight or balance
  • Texture

Flavour

First, the dish should not be sweeter than the wine and we’re not just talking desserts here. Think Chinese or Thai food which often has sweet characters in what are ostensibly savoury dishes. If the wine is too dry with these foods, you will hardly be able to taste it and you can get a sour sort of flavour.

Match like flavours together, for example it’s true that fresh young Sauvignon Blanc with aromas and flavours of citrus, chopped capsicum and summer herbs goes very well with these ingredients. Try throwing a salad together using asparagus, fresh capsicum, herbs and some feta or goat’s cheese and green olives on baby leaves. Use lemon juice instead of vinegar in the dressing and hey presto – a great match!

Light flavoured dishes require lighter flavoured wines and vice versa

Smoky, char -grilled foods love an oaky Chardonnay (think salmon, root veg, chicken, pork, squid, prawns – the list goes on!) or a sizeable tannic Shiraz or Cabernet for the red meats such as steak, lamb or venison.

And just to confuse you…salty and sweet can be great together – one of my favourite all time matches is a rich, unctuous botrytis Riesling with creamy blue cheese….wow….

Weight or balance

This is where common sense applies – if you are preparing a light dish of say a salad or seafood in a light sauce then you need a lighter-bodied wine so that it doesn’t overpower the dish. Equally, a big chewy red with a rare steak or a casserole will go together really well – not just on flavour but because the two elements balance each other.

Texture

This isn’t meant to be complicated….just have fun trying a few things out. Texture is about how the wine or the food feels in your mouth. Is it smooth and rich, or light, maybe even thin? Think of a big rich, creamy Chardonnay with a gently poached salmon fillet still rare in the middle – the two textures are very rich and work together well. Tannic red wine and red meats work brilliantly together because the protein and fat in red meat counterbalance the astringency of the tannins. This makes the wine feel much smoother and richer.
But…avoid tannic red wines with chilli! These two really clash. With hot, spicy dishes go for young, off-dry to medium style white, sparkling or rose wines. If the dish is very hot have a beer or yoghurt drink!

Here are some of my favourite pairings:

Champagne and Sparkling wines

Soft, young, white rind cheeses, rich pate, seafood lightly cooked in butter or in a light white sauce/buerre blanc, oysters, smoked salmon

Sauvignon Blanc

Crisp summer salads, tomato-based dishes, asparagus, chilled summer soups, shellfish, creamy pasta dishes( as a contrast), pesto, feta, goat’s cheese

Chardonnay

Salmon (every which way), roast chicken, creamy dishes, soft white cheeses, crayfish, coconut-infused savoury dishes, satay, scallops,

Pinot Gris

Morrocan flavoured chicken dishes, ethnic foods, creamy pasta,

Riesling

Smoked salmon (with a dry Riesling), Asian foods, smoked fish, Chinese food, duck with orange sauce (if the wine medium style),

Gewurztraminer

Thai food, smoked salmon, pate,

Viognier

Roast pork, Morrocan-flavoured white meat dishes, light curries

Botrytis (noble) wines such as Riesling, Semillon or Chenin Blanc

Creamy blue cheese, dried fruits, Creme brulee or creme caramel, orchard fruit desserts (lemons, oranges, apricots, peaches, pears)

Note: Chocolate desserts require with a big Shiraz or Cabernet (if the dish is made with dark chocolate and is not too sweet) or a glass of Australian Liqueur Muscat – this stuff is like liquid Christmas cake…

Pinot Noir

Game, hot ham, pork, braised beef with olives and orange, Coq au Vin,

Merlot

Sausages, stews , full-flavoured, ripe, Camembert

Cabernet Sauvignon

Lamb, particularly roast, dark game meats,

Shiraz

Beef – roast, steak, duck. And try good quality sparkling shiraz with roast turkey and cranberry sauce – fantastic!

Sangiovese

Light pizza or pasta dishes, cold meats, antipasto

Grenache

Red meat or game dishes with a sweetish element, chilli con carne, ratatouille, cassoulet, sausages

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