Five industry insider secrets to clever wine and food pairing

 

Pairing food and wine can seem like a hidden art. If you’re new to wine pairing and want to make a dinner party extra special, it can seem overwhelming to match each flavour with the right accompaniment. And that’s when something that should be fun becomes a chore.

Matching wine and food together is meant to be enjoyable, not stressful. And while it is a skill, it doesn’t have to be over complicated. The first thing to realise is that there aren’t really any hard and fast rules. It’s more about an intuitive understanding of how flavours work together, and which complement each other.

In fact, you may find yourself breaking traditional ‘rules’ as you go through your wine pairing journey. To help you on your way, here are five insider tips to classic wine and food pairing.

 

1. Wine and food pairing – where to start

Start with weight. In the winter, we eat heavier, richer food and in the summer lighter, more delicate dishes. Apply the same thinking to the wine you’re choosing. Some grapes lend themselves to richer, heavier wines, and others produce light, airy wines.

This is a great shortcut to pairing wine and food, particularly if you’re not familiar with a wine’s flavour profile. A Sauvignon Blanc is a light-bodied white wine with high acidity, and as such works brilliantly with fresh oysters and rich cheeses. However, it doesn’t do as well if it’s paired with a chicken pasta dish, for example. If you’re pairing a white wine with a heavier dish, then go for a heavier wine, like Viognier.

A good rule of thumb for a dinner party is to start with the lighter wines and work your way to the heaviest. But you do need to allow your palate time to rest before switching from delicate wines with nuanced flavour notes to big, bold reds.

 

2. Don’t be taken in by stereotyping

Understand the subtleties of well-known wines. There are many stereotypes surrounding commonly enjoyed wines. For example, you’ve probably heard that Riesling is too sweet to go with many food dishes. Or that Chardonnay is too oaky and buttery. On the face of it, neither of these sound like a good match with food.

However, there is plenty of potential in both of these wines. Not every Riesling is super sweet. Choose a dry Riesling from Germany or the Alsace region of France, for example. These wines are made from grapes grown on old vines, and combined with refined winemaking techniques produce aromatic, bright and beautiful wines that go beautifully with food. They’re particularly good for spicy dishes.

And a Chardonnay from a cooler climate won’t be too oaky. Try an unoaked version from Chablis, and you’ll find dry, lean bottles with a minerally finish. Delicious with all kinds of dishes.

 

3. Don’t run away from sweetness

Wine experts and culinary experts know that slightly sweeter off-dry wines work really well with spicy or rich food. Pinot Grigio has some sweet and florally notes, which pair well with a meal full of salt, fat and richness. For example, a slated fish dish or buttery poached egg works really well with this full-bodied white wine. And for Asian food, a must-try is an off-dry Riesling, which absorbs all the heat from the spices.

 

4. It’s not just about the ingredients

You might think that matching wine to food depends entirely on the ingredients used in the dish. But how the meal is prepared is just as important. For example, a piece of chicken is going to taste very different depending on whether it’s pan seared, grilled, smoked or roasted. And the resulting wine pairings also change.

A classic wine pairing to go with roast chicken is Pinot Noir from Burgundy. It’s a lighter, but still earthy, red wine and is less fruity than the same wine from the New World. Too much fruit can overpower the dish. For spicier chicken dishes, choose a richer wine. Something like a Grenache or Zinfandel goes well with barbecue chicken, for example. You’re looking for juicy, lush notes.

 

5. Create your menu around the wine

Most people plan a dinner party menu by starting with the food and adding the wine on afterwards. But what if you did it the other way around? It’s a good way to get out of your comfort zone and explore some wines you’ve been wanting to try. Start with what you enjoy drinking. This gives you more freedom in your approach to selecting wine. What are you in the mood for? What have you always wanted to try? Start there and match your food accordingly.

Abover all, remember that there are no strict rules about matching wine and food. And while complementary flavours can be satisfactory, it’s also true that completely contrasting notes can work well too. A wine can either echo or reflect the flavour of the dishes, so if you want to go for a contrasting choice then don’t be afraid to do so.

Five delicious wine and comfort food pairings

Whether you want to greet your guests at a dinner or pair your takeout meal, picking the perfect wine to complement your food can be a challenge.

However, choosing the right wine is more intuitive than daunting. The key is to achieve the right balance between the wine’s acidity and the flavour of the food.

Here at Ideal Wine Company, we make your food-wine pairing decision easy.

 

1.    Chilli wine pairings

Spicy and meatier meals need a strong wine profile to stand up to their bold flavour. The rich dark flavours of cherries and plums, with hints of spice and notes of chocolate; make red wine the ideal match for a bold chilli taste.

However, anything high in alcohol or tannins can have an overpowering effect on pepper in chilli. Malbec is always the safest wine option for meaty and spicy foods. Pinot Noir also works well with strong flavours. The subtle notes of tannins cut through the meatiness of the food, while the fruity flavour of these wines pair well with the strong chilli notes.

 

2.    Fried chicken pairings

No dinner menu is complete without the addition of classic fried chicken. A warming staple, this crispy and juicy meal requires an equally celebrated wine.

With this celebrated meal goes a classic wine option. Rich in flavour and highly acidic, champagne compliments fried chicken tastefully. The acidity of champagne cuts through the fried richness of the chicken while its sharp effervescence clears your palate.

 

3.    Beef stew wine pairings

Beef stew is a classic comfort food. It’s also a good excuse for bringing out your cellared full-bodied wines.

Prepared heartily with mushrooms, bacon, beef and potatoes – beef stews need an equally powerful and earthy wine counterpart. The dark fruit and rich tannin notes of full-bodied red wines stand up to the strong taste of the beef stew. Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon are terrific with beef’s earthy taste. Punchy and peppery French Bordeaux and Syrah also balance nicely with strong flavours.

 

4.    Macaroni cheese wine pairings

Macaroni cheese is a simple dish to prepare. But its wine pairing depends on how cheesy your macaroni cheese is.

Its classic recipe that is perfectly paired with a light unoaked chardonnay. Its slight acidity and creaminess pairs well with the cheesiness of the dish. However, if you are planning to enhance your macaroni cheese with lobster, then a white Burgundy will match well with your extravagant meal. If you prefer reds over whites, try Cru Beaujolais to complement your meal. Its Gamay grapes brewing gives it a light to medium body and a hint of acidity.

 

5.    Spaghetti Bolognese pairings

Making a perfect Bolognese sauce is difficult; picking the right wine to complement spaghetti Bolognese is tougher than the former.

This classic Italian dish needs an equally strong wine to match its rich texture. Whether you like red or prefer white, choose a wine with fruity notes and soft tannins with a slight acidity. It can be a daunting task to pair tomatoes well, but the sweetness of this sauce makes it easier. Nero d’Avola cuts through the meatiness while matching well with the tomatoes. The subtle tannins, supple notes of blueberry and acidity of Barbera d’Asti complements well with spaghetti Bolognese.

Learn more about the perfect Italian wines for your dinner parties here.

The bottom line is that, when you’re choosing wines to accompany comfort foods, you should consider the flavours in your dish and how the wine will complement them. Keep the flavour and texture intensities in mind, so that your meal and wine don’t clash. Food and wine pairings are mainly about food. It is the wine that must match well with the food and not the other way around.

Break the rules with these unconventional wine and food matching choices

The rules for wine and food are simple: red with meat and white with fish. Similarly, it should always be white in summer and red in winter. At least that’s what most people think. But there’s no need to be so rigid when it comes to food and wine. Here are some unconventional wine and food matching choices that are just as delicious.

Delicious but unconventional wine and food matching options

Free your mind when it comes to choosing wine for your dinner party. Take a look at these pairings and give them a go next time you’re wondering what to drink with your dinner. Here are some unconventional wine and food matching choices that are just as delicious.

1. White wine and cheese

Traditionally, it’s always red wine with the cheese board. But many French cheese producers believe white wine works best. Sweet wines go perfectly with salty blue cheeses, for example. It also works well with creamy mild cheeses, such as camembert and brie.

2. Sparkling rosé and steak

Ask anyone you know, and they’ll more than likely say it has to be a rich, deep red wine for steak. But try your next steak with a sparkling rose, whether a Champagne or from another region, and you’ll discover why it goes so well with a medium rare, perfectly cooked piece of steak.

3. Sauvignon blanc and salt and vinegar crisps

Well, we did say these pairings are unconventional! According to wine director Ferguson Nagan, any Sauvignon Blanc goes beautifully with salt and vinegar crisps. He told the Spectator Wine that it’s his favourite unconventional wine and food pairing. And if olives are more your style of snack, try a Sicilian white wine.

4. Red wine and chicken

White wine is always touted as the best choice for chicken dishes. But it’s most definitely not the only option that works. Try a red wine with a roast chicken. It may surprise you.

5. Rosé and fish

White is also the first choice for fish due to the low tannin content in its grapes. Tannins are responsible for any sharp or bitter flavours in your wine, and when paired with fish can leave a hint of iron on the palate. Examples of high tannin grapes include Nebbiolo, Cabernet and Sangiovese. However, that doesn’t mean you have to choose white for your fish dish. Instead try low tannin wines, such as rosé, Champagne or a red made with Rossesse, Grenache or Pinot Noir grapes.

6. Sparkling wine and a rich dessert

Rather than choosing a sticky, sweet dessert wine or another glass of red, opt for a sparkler for your dessert. In general, you should avoid wines that are the same level of sweetness as your dessert. However, prosecco, Champagne and demi-sec are all bubbly and forgiving with flavour.

7. Chardonnay and popcorn

Popcorn is full of toasty flavours of the corn itself, and either a savoury or sweet finish. A creamy Chardonnay goes really well with this popular snack and could really lift movie time into something special.

There are no hard and fast rules when it comes to pairing wine with food. The best thing to do is try different combinations until you find your favourite.

Matching wines with Japanese food

Japanese food is all about the balance of flavours. It’s delicate, sweet, salty and delicious, all at once. And although sake is a great accompaniment, pairing your favourite wines with it can turn a good meal into a great one.

Every year, millions of people from all around the world visit Japan to enjoy its fascinating cities, beautiful landscape and, of course, to sample their famous food. Compared with food from further south in Asia, Japanese food is actually easier to pair with wine. You just need to understand the balance of flavours in both your dish and the wine.

 

Wine matching for Japanese food

One of the reasons why Japanese food is so delicious is the so-called fifth flavour – umami. It’s a strong, very savoury flavour that will always make you think of Japanese food.

It’s quite difficult to describe the taste as it isn’t directly one of the four flavours: salty, sour, bitter or sweet. Umami translates as delicious (umai) and essence (mi). Many Japanese dishes are driven by this flavour sensation, thanks to the seasonings that include miso, soy sauce and yuzu pepper.

Dishes like miso soup, katsuobushi (dried, fermented and smoked tuna), and accompaniments such as wasabi and soy sauce are great examples of umami rich foods. Enjoy them with a minerally Riesling or a tart and fresh Soave Classico – these are the wines that pick out and enhance the underlying flavour.

 

Wine matching for sashimi and sushi

Probably the first dishes most people think of when think about Japanese food are sashimi and sushi. Sashimi is specifically raw fish, sliced into very thin fillets. It’s served when it’s as fresh as possible along with shoyu (soy sauce) and wasabi. Sushi are the rolls of seasoned, vinegary rice wrapped with seaweed (nori). They are packed with savoury and salty fillings, which range from crab meat (kani), sea-urchin (uni), raw fish, freshwater eel (unagi) and egg omelette (tamago).

As they are both similar flavour-wise, these dishes can be matched with the same wines. Two good choices are the dry Alsace Riesling and Gruner Veltliner. They can really pull out the flavour of the fish itself and the seasonings that include pickled ginger and wasabi. Riesling also goes well with tuna sushi, known as maguro.

Another good choice to go with sushi and sashimi is Pinot Blanc, as it cuts through the flavours and complements the sweetness of the raw fish. If you prefer something less dry, then go with a creamy Chardonnay, preferably oaked to bring out the flavours.

 

Which wines go with tempura?

Tempura is also a very popular Japanese dish in the UK, thanks to its crispy, tasty flavour profile. It goes really well with lots of different wines, ranging from Chablis to Sauvignon Blanc and Champagne to Gruner Veltliner. Or you can try a light Rose to go with a big plate of mixed tempura for a delicious match.

For deep fried prawn (ebi), then a Chablis or Sancerre works best. For eel (anago), squid (ika) or scallops, you could try a drier Riesling or Chenin Blanc. Veggie tempura goes really well with a dry Muscat.

The next time you’re ordering in some Japanese food, or heading to a restaurant, leave the sake on the side and go for one of your favourite cellar wines instead.

Is it all over for traditional food and wine pairing?

Everyone knows that red wine goes with steak, and white with fish. These are the traditional food and wine matching rules that have been around for decades. However, Master of Wine Tim Hanni says that pairing of food and wine in this way is “pseudo-science”.

The American wine expert says: “A perfect wine pairing doesn’t exist. We’re doing a lot of damage in the way we’re matching wine and categorising it. We need to stop wine and food pairing.”

History of food and wine pairing

Historical records show that wine has long been served as a food accompaniment. Its early history also shows that wine was served in place of water, due to the latter’s unsanitary condition. At this time, there isn’t much evidence to show that there were strict wine and food pairing rules.

As culinary traditions developed throughout the world, so did wine-making. The kinds of wine pairings we consider ‘classic’, came from the relationship between a region’s food and the wine they make. For example, many leading wine regions in Europe had lamb as a staple meat. This leads to red wines from regions such as Rioja, Greece, Bordeaux, the Rhone and Provence being considered a classic pairing with lamb.

Old ideas have survived, including the adage “White wine with fish; Red wine with meat”. Its exact origins are unclear, but it’s been given as advice for centuries. The root of this is the idea of matching the body (or weight) of the wine with the weight of the food. The heavier the food (for example, meat), the heavier and therefore ‘red’ the wine should be.

Modern food and wine pairing

In more recent years, there has been much focus on food and wine pairings. The rules have expanded and interest in pairing wine increased. Sommeliers in restaurants exist to instruct on the perfect pairings with the establishment’s food.

This kind of interest started in the 1980s in the US, when the wine industry began advertising its products as a key part of the dining experience. Previously, they have been marketed simply as an alcoholic drink for consumption. Winemakers started to emphasise the foods their wines would go with and the media ran with the idea.

These days, you can find advice all over the place for the perfect food and wine pairing. And it looks as though the strictness of the traditional rules is relaxing. Many wine buyers and drinkers go with their instinct or choose what they like the taste of.

Speaking at a wine conference in New Zealand, Mr Hanni adds: “We need to celebrate the diversity of consumers, not make them feel stupid. You can serve sauvignon blanc with steak – why not? We need to get over the notion that food and wine grew up together. Food and wine matching is pseudo-science full of metaphors and misunderstandings.”