The Basics of Pairing Food and Wine
Matching wine with different cuisines and flavour profiles can be confusing, but to help you get it right, the Wine Selectors Tasting Panel has taken the guesswork out of the equation with their handy guide to creating complementary food and wine pairings.
Balance & harmony
Wine and food should be partners, with neither dominating the other. Richer foods need a richer wine that won’t fade in comparison, while light foods need a delicate wine, so the flavours in the dish aren’t overwhelmed.
You can create a good match by echoing the ingredients in your food with the characteristics in the wine, for example, asparagus with Sauvignon Blanc, a spicy Shiraz with fragrant Asian dishes, or an earthy Pinot enjoyed with anything containing mushrooms.
Don’t forget that the dominant feature of a dish can sometimes be the sauce rather than the main ingredient, so use that as your guide.
Some wines can suffer in the presence of chilli, but others are ideal. Lower alcohol whites like Riesling and Semillon work really well, as they have high acidity and pair well with fried dishes, and with ingredients high in salt like soy sauce. A spicy red like Shiraz is arguably the best red all-rounder with spicy Asian food – just avoid wines that are too high in alcohol or tannins, as they will accentuate any heat present.
Slightly off-dry Rieslings can have a calming effect on spicy food and don’t forget the option of starting the meal with a cold beer.
Tannins love fat
Tannins are the astringent structural components in wine and when the tannins are obvious, a meal with a high fat content will soften the mouth-feel and create overall harmony. Great examples are slow roasted lamb shoulder or Parmigiano Reggiano with Cabernet Sauvignon-dominant wines. Fire up the barbeque and enjoy a robust Malbec with a fatty prime rib or juicy pork sausage.
Acid loves acid, salt & fat
High acid wines harmonise well with the natural acidity in food, with a crisp white paired with a salad featuring a zingy vinaigrette being a good example. Acid also balances fat, so beer-battered fish & chips are best served with a zesty white like Pinot Grigio, Riesling or a Classic White Blend.
White wine with white meat & red wine with red meat?
There is no right or wrong, but certain varieties do have a natural affinity – think chicken and Chardonnay, or pork and Pinot, however, accompanying sauces & the cooking method may influence your ultimate choice.
Add a bunch of Italian herbs and white wine to your chicken dish and you should lean towards a Pinot Grigio, or whip up a slow cooked pork ragu with tomato and olives and a Barbera would be a better choice.
Balance remains the key consideration, and neither the wine nor the dish should overpower the other. And don’t forget that gutsier whites like Chardonnay, Roussanne and Viognier can have more than enough weight to pair with a dish normally associated with a red wine match.
Don’t forget the fifth taste – Umami
Discovered in Japan, and responsible for a heightened sense of deliciousness, umami drives the flavour X-factor in foods as diverse as mushrooms, tomatoes, anchovies, hard cheese, red meat, tomato sauce and Vegemite!
Chefs and home cooks are increasing the use of foods rich in umami, which makes wine matching with these foods even more exciting. Start with a match that is well proven, like duck and Pinot, then add a mushroom component to ramp up the flavour complexity.
What about desserts?
The main consideration with a sweet pairing is that the wine is as sweet or sweeter than the dessert, as a dessert that’s sweeter that the wine will make the wine taste dull and knock out its character.
Wines with a bit of fizz like Moscato or sweeter-style Prosecco can also be wonderful with fruit-based desserts or even the classic combination of melon and prosciutto enjoyed as part of an antipasto spread.
For more information about specific wine and food pairings, check out Food and Wine Matching 101