The matching of a wine to a particular food is quite a skill, but once your palate develops – all it takes is practice – the task will become easier. Food matching tips from the experts is a great place to start, and get a feel of wine-tasting terminology. An accurate description of a wine will make it much easier to match it up with a food.
Try to match the wine with the dominant flavour of the dish to find a good balance between the two. Here are a few matching suggestions:
Foods with a naturally higher acid content, including many fruits and cheeses, will often go well with younger wines which have a higher acidity such as Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio or Zinfandel. These wines will also complement foods such as fish, chicken or salads which are frequently flavoured with lemon or vinegar.
Highly seasoned dishes flavoured with salt or spice will pair well with lower alcohol, fruity wines like Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, a dry Rosé or Pinot Noir rather than anything highly tannic.
Delicately cooked and flavoured food, such as steamed, smoked or poached dishes, will require a delicate match. Again, try Pinot Grigio, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel or Gewürztraminer.
Rich, heartier dishes require fuller bodied wines such as Merlot, Syrah/Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Chardonnay.
Sweeter savoury dishes, such as honey roasted ham or pork with a syrupy glaze, will suit a medium sweet or off dry style of wine like Riesling or Chenin Blanc.
Desserts and puddings will only successfully match well rounded sweet or dessert wines. The wine needs to taste sweeter than the dish it hopes to complement. Serving anything else leaves the wine in danger of tasting acidic, try Muscat, Vespaiola, Frontignac or a Port.
Experiment with food and wine pairings.
Opposites often attract, so you can choose sweet wines to complement salty cheeses and spicy Asian food.
Know your geography and you can match food and wine by place of origin, as regional pairings – having developed naturally together – are often well suited.
Important! When you are drinking very fine wine, remember to only serve it alongside neutral dishes that are lightly seasoned. You do not want to overpower the delicacy of the wine.
If you find the match of your food and wine is not perfect, adjust the flavour of your meal. With careful use of the right seasoning or cooking method, an unsuitable dish can be cunningly tweaked to better suit the wine, if you find it feels too dry or too bitter.
Lemon juice or vinegar will sharpen the flavour of a dish and make it more compatible with an acidic wine. The wine in turn will taste richer and more mellow.
Salt will suppress unwanted bitterness in wine. It will also make sweet wines taste sweeter.
Fresh pepper – grind over a rare steak to add texture and juiciness and make a heavily tannic wine taste less tannic.
Meat cooked rare will add texture and juices to the meal, and can often compensate for a mediocre wine.
Sweetness in a dish will increase the awareness of bitterness in the wine, making it appear stronger and drier.
Use a ‘forkful’ for cooking! Wine can be an exceptional ingredient for marinades and sauces, but if you decide to add wine in the preparation of the food, make sure it is of good quality – don’t cut corners just because you are cooking with it. Try to use the same variety of wine that you will be serving with the dish, and if possible the same wine itself.
For formal dinners, follow etiquette and serve:
Lighter wines before more full-bodied wines.
Drier wines before sweet ones (unless there is a particularly sweet early course).
Lower alcohol wines before higher alcohol wines.
Rob Hemphill has been a professional winemaker and Winemaking Consultant for over 20 years. Find out more about Wine and Food matching, as well as general wine info at Understanding Wine: A Beginners Guide See also how to match wine and chocolate, it’s mouth watering!
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