Matching wine with food sounds tricky but there are a few guidelines that can really help. Here are 10 secrets to help matching wine with food.
Red meat, red wine. White meat, white wine. Rosé… pork? That used to be my limit on what I thought matching wine with food was about. But it’s not as simple as that.
I’ve even had sparkling wine with beef, which worked amazingly, so even well-known rules like dark meats and heavy wines can be tested.
In fact, there are no hard-and-fast rules on matching wine with food. It often comes down to things like where the wine comes from, how the food’s cooked and of course personal taste.
However, there are some great little tips we’ve found that will help if you’re still finding this whole matching wine with food thing a bit elusive.
10 secrets of matching wine with food
You certainly don’t have to do all of these things at once, but applying one or two of them to your choices will give you a bit of guidance for a great pairing and – more importantly – peace of mind as you plan your meal.
1. A salute to Champagne
People often think champagne and sparkling wine is only good for celebrations and making toasts. But there’s actually a lot more you can do with a glass of bubbles than that.
Rich, bold bottles of bubbly with yeasty biscuity flavours go well with game meats. We’ve even had sirloin steak with a beautiful Tasmanian sparkling – the House of Arras’ EJ Late Disgorged 2002.
The traditional recipe blend for sparkling is chardonnay and pinot grapes, so there’s bound to be plenty of character if the wine’s well made. Don’t underestimate it!
2. Sweet and savoury
A good general rule to follow is to put sweet and savoury together. Think salted caramel, strawberries and pepper, fries and thick-shakes (that last one is one of Mrs Romance’s dirty little secrets!)
The same applies to matching wine with food. Light, sparkling wines like prosecco go perfectly with salted meats like prosciutto or jamon – or even better: oysters.
3. Let colour help you
As I mentioned earlier, all I used to know about matching wine with food was red meat and red wine. Well, it’s a well-trodden path for a good reason.
It’s a simplified version of wine pairing, but colour-matching does work. However, don’t be afraid to mix it up a little. A lighter red wine like a sangiovese with fish – especially something like tuna or swordfish – would work well.
And why not try a bolder white like an old chardonnay with red meat. There’s nothing to say it won’t go.
4. Follow your nose
Let the smell of the wine help you match it to the food – and vice versa. If the wine has a fruity nose, match it with a fruit entrée. Many white wines have a melon or stoned fruit bouquet that will go well with fruity dishes. Just make sure the food is balanced with a savoury element; cured meat or a cheese.
For red wines, think about the berry bouquets you get from them. Blackcurrent and cherry are often there in a shiraz or cab sauv. Why not pair them with a meat dish that comes with a berry coulis.
Older reds often have a strong savoury note to them, which goes well with mushrooms.
5. Sauce and sauce
Don’t get caught up with matching the wine to only the protein on your plate. There are so many things you can work with to pair the wine to.
A great tip is to match your wine to the sauce you’re serving. A white creamy sauce will go well with a sharp riesling or pinot grigio, whereas a richer, meatier or tomato-based sauce will go well with a bolder red like a shiraz.
6. Pinot for the win
Pinot Noir is a very versatile red wine. It has probably the most diverse profile of all wine varieties and so can go well with lots of different foods.
From fruity, sweet pinots to deep, savoury ones, there’s pretty much a pinot noir for every mood. If you’re not sure which one to buy, ask at the shop and make sure you read the label on the bottle.
Pinot noir has a dark side to it too though. It’s very susceptible to flavour changes due to glass shape. It might sound weird, but we’ve tried the same pinot noir in a proper pinot glass then again in a chardonnay glass and it tasted completely different.
If you can get your hands on a good pinot noir glass, you should try it. We wonder how many bottles of good pinot we’ve ruined in the past!
Riedel glasswear is beautiful – and their pinot noir glasses are superb too.
7. What grows together goes together
There’s certainly truth behind the saying that what grows together goes together. The professionals swear by it, which is good enough for me.
Loosely, if you’re cooking with Italian ingredients, why not match the meal with an Italian wine? More specifically, if you’re serving beef from South Australia, you’d be mad not to go for a wine from the Barossa or Claire Valley!
8. A cut above
When it comes to red meat, knowing what flavours and textures the cut of meat has that you’re cooking can help you choose your wine.
Different red varieties have different levels of acidity, which affect the fats in the meat. A cut with lots of fat marbling will be richer, so a wine with more tannins and body will go best. A strong shiraz is perfect.
Lamb also responds well to bold a shiraz or a cabernet sauvignon.
However, a leaner cut of meat – even pork – will go better with a medium bodied red.
Don’t be afraid to serve white wine with red meat. Wines like The Obsessive from Scarborough Wine in the Hunter Valley is an impressive chardonnay. I bet this wine would stand up against most cuts of red meat.
9. Old wine and old cheese
Wine and cheese go together so well, don’t they? I wonder if it’s because age has similar effects on them. With both, the longer they’re nurtured, the more flavour develops within them.
For red wine, bitter tannins soften to savoury flavours and berry sweetness blends to umami. For whites, flavours mellow and deepen to create balance, and the wine gains colour.
All of this extra complexity in flavour means the wine is more difficult to match with food. Cheese has so many flavour subtleties, which also develop over time, it’s a no-brainer to put the two together!
10. A bitter-sweet end
Finish the meal with a riesling. People often overlook the fact that wine with focused acidity like riesling are perfect for matching with sweets.
The contrast of bitter and sweet create a more complete picture in flavour terms. The acidity of the riesling also cleanses the palate.
However, you have to be careful which riesling you buy. There are lots of rieslings that are passionfruit- and peach-focused. You want a minerally, sharp riesling. Again, if you’re not sure, ask someone and always read the label.
If you’re more of a visual learner, this infographic I found sums things up beautifully. There aren’t really any bombshells in here, but if you’re looking for reassurance with your pairings, this will definitely do the trick.
Infographic courtesy of Visual.ly – click to enlarge.
Good luck with matching wine with food. It’s challenging, but when you get it right, it’s absolutely worth the trouble.