If there’s one area that is guaranteed to get novice wine lovers scratching their heads it is which bottle to serve with which food. Pairing wine is the art of complementing your meal with exactly the right choice of red, white, rose or even bubbly.
Unfortunately, if you think the simple mantra of red goes with red meat and white goes with chicken and fish, is the only thing you need to know, it’s time to think again. Here’s our quick guide to get you started.
What Are You Looking For?
If you love a particular bottle of wine and it works for you, there might be no need to worry about what food it goes with best. If, however, you want to improve your palate and gain a more nuanced understanding of how wine and food go together, especially if you entertain a lot, you will need to understand what you are trying to achieve, experiment liberally and make the effort to learn.
It takes time and effort to do this. But it’s also a lot of fun if you love wine and food.
Start with the Food
To keep it simple, the best place to start is with the food you are serving. If you are having a quick snack then any medium priced wine that washes down the food may well be the order of the day. If you’re planning a banquet or family meal with an expensive cut of meat, however, then you may want a wine that has a certain, defined character.
Bold Flavours vs Delicate
When eating a delicate dish like fish with a salad, choosing a bold, impactful wine such as a Shiraz can easily overpower the flavours in your food and cause an imbalance. Similarly, if you choose a light red Burgundy with a spicy curry, it can seem like you’re drinking water. To start with, you should, as much as possible, pair bold flavours with bold wines and delicate dishes with delicate wines.
In some cases, however, complementing flavour is not exactly what you are looking for. Contrasting can be just as interesting. For example, if you’re eating chicken with a thick, creamy sauce you might either choose to complement it with a creamy Chardonnay, which will share something of the same characteristics of the food’s flavour, or opt for something that has the opposite such as an acidic kick with a Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Grigio.
Some Wines Are More Flexible
If you are having trouble with trying to pair different wines with different foods, there are several wines that work across the board. These are varieties which have a decent amount of acidity but aren’t too bold. Possible choices could be a good dry Riesling. You might also try wines that have a higher degree of fruitiness like an Italian red.
Knowing Your Wine
Mostly pairing comes down to understanding what different wines deliver. That’s a lifelong pursuit in itself and can take a while to work out. Pork is often served with a sweet apple sauce so pairing it with a fruity wine like a Muscat can be quite delightful. If you have a salty food like smoked salmon or a dish with soy sauce, however, in it can benefit from both acidic and sweet wines. For a meal that contains a good deal of fat (either animal, butter or cream) a bold, high impact red wine with a rich, full-bodied flavour would be the order of the day. You wouldn’t, however, serve a sweet wine with a sticky toffee pudding as that would be too overpowering.
Pairing wine successfully is not easy for beginners but it’s something that you can learn to do. As you discover more about different wines and begin to understand the nuance of each, you should develop your own sense of what works and what doesn’t.
The fun, of course, is all in the experimentation.