Rather than just providing a whole list of pairings that work, I thought I would supply some basic guidelines. These are guidelines, not rules! So feel free to mix and match and experiment for yourself, food and wine pairing should be fun not something to be worried about.
No accounting for taste
Food and wine matching is a grey area as a lot of matches are down to personal taste. If someone enjoys a particular combination of flavours, then they are not right or wrong it’s their preference. It is the same with long held traditions: red wine and cheese; and in France, finishing off the champagne with dessert (especially if it is a type of sponge cake) – neither of which work particularly well. In fact when it comes down to actually matching cheese with wines, many cheeses actually go better with whites. There are two main ways in which food matching can be approached: either by complementing or by contrasting.
Opposites Attract (Contrast)
It is a cliché, but as with people, some of the best matches are when food contrast with the wine.
A great illustration of this is when sweet wine is matched against salty food. As the sweetness of the wine is balanced out by the saltiness of the food. The most classic example of this are blue cheeses and sweet wines; for example:
• Port with Stilton
• Sauternes with Roquefort
Another match is a tannic wine with fatty food. The fat smoothes the tannins making them less obvious. The tannins in return help cut through the fat making it easier to eat. Examples here would be:
• A marbled piece of beef with a young Cabernet Sauvignon
• A hard cheese with a red Rhône blend such as a Gigondas or Châteauneuf du Pape
In a similar vein to above, another match for fatty foods are wines with acidity. The acidity in the wine helps reduce the feel of the fattiness on the palate. For example:
• Pork belly matched with an Alsace Riesling
No Shouting At The Table (Complement)
The more traditional route in food and wine pairing is for the wine and food to be similar. The basic idea is that it should be like a conversation, not a shouting match. Enabling both the wine and the food to be tasted with neither struggling to overpower the other. The important factors to consider for each pairing are: weight, sweetness and acidity.
The pair should be of a similar weight and intensity, if the food is richer or more intense than the wine then the flavours of the wine will not come through. The opposite is also true; if you have a rich wine with delicate food, the wine will overpower the dish. The focus of the pairing should be on the dominant flavour in the dish. For example, if a white fish is poached it will need to be paired with a delicate wine. If on the other hand it is served in a rich, creamy sauce, then the wine will also need to be richer.
The pairings should also be of similar sweetness; for example, if a crisp dry white is served with a rich creamy cake, the wine will taste acidic whilst the cake will have slightly off flavours. If a light strawberry tart is paired with a fortified wine such as a sweet Sherry, or Vin Doux Natural, the wine will feel cloying and overpower the tart. A good example of a pairing with similar sweetness is sponge cake with a light, slightly sweet wine such as Moscato d’Asti. A rich chocolate dessert will need something sweet and heavy such as tawny port.
Acidity is also an important factor as wines with high acidity can overwhelm milder foods. If, on the other hand, a wine with high acidity is served with food with a similarly acidity, they cancel each other out, making the wine seem fruitier. For example, Alsace Riesling with a traditional Alsatian Sauerkraut.
If it grows together, it goes together
As a general rule it is best to choose a wine from the same region as the dish you are trying to pair it with. Food goes well with wines from the same region. This is no coincidence, as historically food and wine would have been sourced locally. This would have influenced the winemakers to make wine in a style that will complement local dishes. The joy of this, is that it makes choosing wine to go with your food in a winemaking region easy, as the choice is pretty much made for you.
Here are a few examples:
- Muscadet and oysters
- Bordeaux and salt-marsh lamb
- Barolo and game
- Chianti and beef
- Red Burgundy with boeuf Bourguignon
- Alsace Riesling and choucroute garnie (Alsatian Sauerkraut)
- Provence rosé with bouillabaisse
- Vin de Savoie with diots au vin blanc
- Australian Shiraz and barbecued meats
- Californian Zinfandel and hamburger
- Fino with olives and Manchego – Fino is a surprisingly good match with most food
People can be too precious about trying to find the best match for each individual dish. Food pairing is particularly hard in a restaurant, especially if everyone has ordered something different. The best match is the one that you get the most pleasure out of, even if it is not a “perfect” pairing.
If this article has piqued your interest then have a go for yourself, and let me know what you think – especially if you find a combination that I haven’t mentioned. Just remember you can’t go wrong with Sherry and food, well that’s what I think anyway.