Home Food / wine matching
Food & wine matching PDF Print E-mail
 

Most wine is made to be drunk with food. However, choosing the right wine to go with a dish (or the right dish to go with the wine) can be tricky. Although there is no one right answer, there are a few 'wrong' ones which will spoil your meal.

 

Basic Considerations

  • DO match the richness/weight of the food and the weight/body of the wine
  • DO match the flavour intensity of the food with the flavour intensity of the wine
  • DO match acidic foods with acidic wine
  • DO eat 'chewy' meat with tannic wine
  • DON'T combine oily or salty foods with high-tannic red wines; try high-acid wines instead
  • DON'T drink red wine with sweet foods; try a sweet wine instead

 

Some suggestions

Below are further details regarding matching the correct wine with the correct food (or vice versa), but here are some suggestions from us:

Smoked Salmon Champagne
Salmon or Trout Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume
Shellfish Chablis, Sancerre or New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
Fresh Tuna Pinot Noir
Monkfish Chablis
Chips/French Fries
Champagne
Chicken Stew Pinot Noir, red or white Burgundy, New World Chardonnay
Peking Duck Pinot Noir, Malbec
Light Lamb Dishes Rhone Syrah or Portugese reds
Roast Lamb Red Bordeaux, red Rioja, fruity Portuguese red or South African Pinotage
Steak Argentian Malbec
Beef Casserole Australian Shiraz
Spaghetti Bolognese Chianti Classico or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
Barbequed Meat Oaky Aussie Shiraz
Cantonese Dim Sum Champagne, Pinot Gris
Light Curry Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer or Riesling
Powerful Curry Lager
Roquefort/Gorgonzola Sauternes
Stilton Port or full-bodied reds (e.g. Californian Zinfandel)
Fruit Tart New World Late Harvest Riesling
Chocolate Pudding Tokaji

 

 

Red meats, heavy and rich foods

“Heavy” and rich dishes include red meats (such as steaks and Sunday roasts), as well as game and casseroles. All of these meals will benefit from an equally heavy (or “full-bodied") and rich wine.

These high protein foods also appear to soften the effects of tannins, so go well with high tannin wines (such as those made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Shiraz/Syrah, and Malbec).

However, one word of warning: if you are eating oily meats (such as duck or goose), you should NOT pair these with high-tannin wines; instead, match them with a high-acid wine such as a dry Riesling.

Suggestions:

  • Roast beef: red Bordeaux (such as a Margaux)
  • Sirloin steak: Argentinian Malbec
  • Beef casserole: Australian Shiraz
  • Roast lamb: red Bordeaux, red Rioja, fruity Portuguese red or South African Pinotage
  • Peking Duck: Pinot Noir, Malbec
  • Roasted Duck or Goose: red Burgundy, Tuscan reds, Rioja, New Zealand Riesling

If you prefer, you can pair these dishes with a heavy white wine (such as an oaked Chardonnay); this would be a much better pairing than a light red. Remember, you are trying to match the weight of the food with the weight of the wine: heavy food = heavy wine.

 

Lighter meats and fish

Light meats such as chicken or fish need a much lighter wine - otherwise the wine will overpower the food. The obvious choice is a white wine, but you could also use a light-bodied red (such as a wine from Beaujolais).

However, stay clear of tannic wines when eating oily fish (e.g. salmon, trout, tuna), otherwise you will experience a nasty, metallic taste. Low tannic wines (e.g. Beaujolais) can be paired with non-oily, meaty fish (e.g. monkfish, haddock).

Suggestions:

  • Lamb: Syrah from Burgundy, Portuguese red from the Douro, or Valpolicella
  • Chicken stew: Pinot Noir, red or white Burgundy, Californian Zinfandel, New World Chardonnay, dry Riesling, Viognier
  • Monkfish: Chablis or Beaujolais (e.g. Fleurie, Brouilly, Morgon)
  • Salmon/Trout: Sancere, Pouilly-Fume, Vinho Verde (from Portugal)
  • Tuna: New World Pinot Noir or Chinon (from Loire)
  • Dover sole: simple white Burgundy or lightly-oaked Chardonnay

Don't be afraid to chill light reds down - we often drink these wines far too warm. Click here to see our section on serving wine for further details.

 

Salty foods

Salty foods make tannic wines taste bitter. Therefore, salty dishes are best paired with either crisp, dry, light-bodied whites or wines with some sweetness.

Suggestions:

  • Mussels, oysters, scallops, prawns: Chablis, Pouilly-Fume, Sancerre, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc
  • Crab: Riesling or Viognier
  • Lobster: full-bodied white Burgundies, New World Chardonnay
  • Roquefort/Gorgonzola: Sauternes (sweet)
  • Dolcelatte and Saint Agur: Dolcetto or young Beaujolais
  • Stilton: aged Tawny Port or fruity reds (e.g. Aussie Cabernet Sauvignons or Californian Zinfandels)

 

Acidity

Sour foods make wine taste less acidic - and less refreshing and vibrant. Therefore, in order to balance the acidity in food… yes, you’ve guessed, match it with a wine that is high in acidity.

A perfect example of this is Italian cooking which are laden with tomatoes, lemons, vinegar, etc. This is why many Italian reds are so high in acidity, and why the Sangiovese grape (used heavily in Chianti) is a great match.

However, if you have been paying attention, you will remember that “oily” and “salty” dishes should not be matched with a high-tannic wine. So, that rules out Chianti. What do you do then? The answer is to match these dishes with a white wine that is high in acidity: the classic choice is a Riesling. These wines have had a rough press and many people still associate sweet German wines when they think of Riesling. This is not the case: there are some fantastically dry Rieslings out there.

Acidic wines also compliment rich, oily foods (such as pate, duck and goose).

Suggestions:

  • Spaghetti Bolognese: Chianti Classico or Montepulciano d'Abruzzo
  • Duck and Goose: red Burgundy, Tuscan reds, Rioja, New Zealand Riesling

 

Smoked foods

Wines that are aged in oak barrels pick up an element of smokiness from the barrel. This smokiness can be matched with the smokiness in food. As with the other rules, try to match the smokiness of the food with the smokiness of the wine (or amount of barrel ageing that the wine has had).

Suggestions:

  • Lightly smoked salmon: Brut Champagne or sparkling wine
  • Smoked pork: German Riesling (a bit of sweetness will even benefit this pairing)
  • Barbequed foods: can be paired with really oaky wines such as Australian Shiraz

 

Flavour intense/spicy foods

Food can be flavour-intensive without being heavy. For example, a chili is light, but very flavoursome; cooked pasta is heavy, but not flavoursome.

The simple rule here is to match the intensity of the food with the intensity of the wine: the more flavour the food has, the stronger the flavours in the wine should be. Also, because hot spices reduce the sweetness in wines (making dry wines taste bitter), a bit of sweetness is also required when pairing a wine with spicy food.

For these reasons, wines made from the Gewurztraminer and Riesling grapes are often suggested as a pairing with Thai foods and currys. My personal feeling is that a Gewurz or a Riesling is fine with a light curry, but I’d recommend drinking lager with a strong curry.

On the flip-side, if you have a food that is heavy, but low in flavour, drink something heavier with less intense flavour (e.g. Chardonnay).

Suggestions:

  • Spicy, but not hot, food: Champagne, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Riesling or New World Cabernet Sauvignon/Shiraz/Merlot
  • Thai green curry/Korma: Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer or Riesling
  • Madras curry: Indian beer (e.g. Kingfisher or Tiger)
  • Steamed chicken and Boulangeres potatoes: Chardonnay

 

Sweetness

When it comes to dessert, many people continue drinking the wine that they had with the main course. I know that I did. However, you will often find that the wine doesn’t taste very nice (I know that I used to opt for cheese rather than dessert when given the choice).

Dry wines appear tart and over-acidic when drunk with sweet foods. So, drink sweet wine when eating sweet food. Sauternes, Tokaji and late-harvest wines are beautiful wines which compliment puddings wonderfully, and are quite reasonably priced: they might come in small bottles, but you don't need much of them.

Tokaji is a personal favourite of mine. Tokaji’s sweetness is measured in puttonyos (the higher the number, the sweeter the wine – with 6 being the sweetest). I find that the 5 or 6 puttonyos Tokaji Aszu is a better match with really sweet chocolate pudding than many Sauternes (and is often more affordable). This may just be the quality of Sauternes that I have experienced recently; please feel free to contact us if you disagree.

Suggestions:

  • Fruit tarts: Eiswein or New World Late Harvest Riesling
  • Sponge pudding: Sauternes or Late Harvest Rieslings
  • Christmas pudding: Madeira
  • Chocolate pudding: Tokaji

 

And finally...

I think that you’ll have picked up that the general rule is to “match” your food with similar wines: weight, acidity, sweetness, smoke, intensity.

But, most importantly, remember that there is no single correct answer to the question: "what goes with...".

Try a few of the above suggestions, experiment, and let us know if you find a pairing that you think works well.